Blaine Harrison wants to punch you in the face. But I don’t know, I don’t think he would. He seems too nice. He wants The Mystery Jets’ new album to “slam against your ear drums” with guitars that “feel like they are right there in front of you;” he says this album is “much more direct. Much more hard-hitting.” Well the first few bars of the opening track ‘Screwdriver’ back up those objectives. It’s got build, passion, belief and yes, it’s loud and angry. Yet Blaine’s vocals still have a softness and a gentle courage rather than a rude aggression. Don’t be silly, this isn’t Thrash metal you know. It’s not angry out of delinquent angst, it’s angry with deep seated principles and articulated arguments. And it’s got a craft ale named after it. Musically, if it was a twin it would share a mother with Foals. I don’t know their political sway (I can guess) but if this music was an angry politician it would be more a non-violent Obama rally than an angry EDL march. Speaking of which, the lyrics of Screwdriver takes an uncompromising look at the rise of the alt-right, berating hateful elements of society and turning its aggression to ‘fight them with love.’
“Screwdriver is about the mechanics of intolerance. Looking back at times of economic instability in history, we see how easily deep chasms grow in society and the population seeks change wherever it is most convincingly promised. Conflict arises as cultures and belief systems clash, unwilling to accept one another’s place in society, because we are fed the rhetoric that our neighbours are those responsible for our problems: then inevitably nationalism once more raises its ugly head above the parapet. But whereas political agendas fuel divisiveness, music unites and reminds us of all that we have in common. The message of Screwdriver is not a pessimistic one – because perhaps faced with confrontation we can find understanding, and maybe even learn how to listen to, and love one another.”
Yet this sixth album “wasn’t about making pointed opinions. It was about being a mirror for what’s going on, reflecting back what people are feeling.”
I love the punch. My nose is bleeding already and I want more. One of the reasons Harrison is so articulate about his political causes is because in 2017 he was an apartment guardian in an empty office block on the Strand. Every weekend a different march would pass around the corner toward Trafalgar Square. The ones that camped out he would go down in the mornings and join them. In a time of unprecedented social demonstrations and upheaval this album was written as a banner for the state of a generation. Perhaps in another generation it might have been part of the soundtrack of an era but these days there are so many voices that this one just joins in the clamour. Perhaps it’s not quite controversial enough for that.
This might all be slightly old news to you – much of this album has been out since the end of 2019; the release and UK tour postponed due to Blaine’s ill health and hospitalisation. His struggle with Spina Bifida means this sometimes has to be the case. I think this is one of the reasons there is such a realism and down to earth maturity to the band’s approach – they are not a band that courts the glamour and hedonism, they are a band that has been built around a father, son, and a mate from nursery school. In fact rather than chasing the rainbow, ‘Endless City’ is a paean to guitarist and songwriter Will Rees hometown Margate after falling out of love with the hustle of London.
The album speaks of many facets of politics and our resulting mental health – from ‘History Has Its Eyes On You,’ about the Women’s Marches and gender imbalance in music boardrooms and recording studios; to ‘Wrong Side Of The Tracks’ an airy anthem inspired by Greta Thunberg.
It was friend and co-producer Matthew Twaites who mentioned casually one day that the average human has over a billion heartbeats in their lifetime which led Blaine to name the song and subsequently the album. But he also helped the band self-produce the tracks which makes for very involved, very direct sound. “It’s less reliant on traditional ways of recording – it’s pedal board straight into mixing desk…which five years ago would have been sacrilege,” explains Blaine, “you get the wave form hitting the circuit board really hard, which makes the sonics really direct.”
The album careers widely within its prog-rock, psychedelic, foals-esque mandate – more so than the last, frankly hard-to-better album ‘Curve Of The Earth’ – which some may bemoan, but they attempt so much with ‘A Billion Heartbeats’ simply because they can; and why not? The band is resolute in their unspoken conviction to explore excellence in artistic musicality and speak to their generation about personal engagement with the world around them. Sounds good to me guys. An album well worth getting to know.
A Billion Heartbeats finally drops on April 3rd 2020 via Caroline International.