Mystery Jets - Twenty One
'I never thought growing old could be so tough...' That's what Mystery Jetter Blaine Harrison sings on Umbrellahead, one of two piano-led laments, the other being the hidden title track, that establish Twenty One's core theme: the loss of innocence. Three years have passed since their debut Making Dens, an album that marked them out as much less orthodox than the Libertines copycats crawling out of London back then. Part of the Eel Pie Island scene, which gave us Jamie T and the mourned Larrikin Love, the Jets' debut was a prog-influenced offering. Perhaps this was Blaine's dad's influence, as Harry Harrison had a starring role in the early days. This time around though, he won't be joining his two sons and their band members in the live arena, relegated to a smaller role in the songwriting process. This rejig might explain the different approach taken here, one that strangely aligns them with Calvin Harris as kids of the '80s.
The opening siren of Hideaway - and, indeed, the ensuing three minutes of the track - hoodwinks the listener into thinking Erol Alkan has taken them down the Klaxon route, the infamous Trash DJ being the predominent producer of the album. However, we're soon into the twee yet soulful '60s pop of recent single Young Love, aimed squarely at the radio and featuring a sparkling guest vocal from the lovely Laura Marling. Half in Love With Elizabeth is as earnest and angular as We Are Scientists, while Flakes' swooning heartbreak-pop, made all the better by a rich vocal from Blaine, is the most affecting indie swooner since Toothpaste Kisses.
Entering into the album's mid-section marks a shift, and is when we go back to the future: if the future is the '80s, that is (and all signs seem to suggest so). Two Doors Down - brash or brilliant? The verdict is still out but, with its glossy production - including, of all things, a dodgy sax solo - and a chorus in debt to Aztec Camera and Phil Collins, it could pull in the nostalgia fiends and become their biggest hit yet. Just when you think they've got it out of their system, the aptly-titled MJ comes along, sounding like the King of Pop's Smooth Criminal redone by the Police.
The abandonment of prog for '80s hooks and layered production is an interesting one and, while it may alienate fans of the first album, highlights the band's progression as songwriters. Thankfully, Alkan hasn't turned them into new-rave, dancefloor-igniting cybermen (let him do that with the superb Late of the Pier, whose album he is currently working on) and allows their own ideas and musicianship to breathe. Closer Behind the Bunhouse, which carries through the thread of first love lost, sheds the second half's retro stylings and is, in my opinion, all the better for it. Let them relive their '80s childhood for the time being, though, because they won't be Twenty One for long...