The 1980s seem to be everywhere nowadays. From MGMT to La Roux’s “Bulletproof”, the sound of synthesizers is sprouting up all over the map again after its 20-year hiatus. Usually, the infectious grooves we hear are mostly nostalgic trips to the past without much more to go on. However, on Serotonin, Mystery Jets try to fuse their own brand of indie rock with their New Wave influences. They don’t always succeed, but when they do, it’s a masterful explosion of ecstatic melody.
From the first minute of opener “Alice Springs”, it’s clear that Mystery Jets are focused on the joy of living life to its fullest in the most interesting ways they can. A delicate guitar/string fade-in brings to mind classic Disney movies, like something out of Fantasia. It gives the feeling of floating through space as you slowly approach the Earth. A deep, rumbling bass fills in the ground beneath these light touches. The song descends to the planet’s surface soon after Blaine Harrison starts to sing in a strong voice about love. All the instruments kick in, transforming the track from a ambient piece to a high-energy rocker with lots of swirling guitar sounds. The way it effortlessly moves from subtle and light to straightforward and heavy is wondrous, adding depth to an already catchy outpouring of joy.
Speaking of Harrison, if you love lyrics about well, love, then you’ll enjoy most of what he has to say. There’s the pure joy of being in love (Id do anything you want me to do//Cause I dont have nothing if I dont have you), there’s lust (“Come back to me no need to hide//Make a little room for me tonight”), and there’s loss (“The Girl Is Gone”).
The follow-up, “Too Late to Talk”, definitely shows the impact of having Beatles and Paul McCartney producer Chris Thomas in the band’s corner. The song would fit perfectly on a Wings album, starting off with melodic horns and focusing mostly on piano. As a whole, it’s pretty sappy with wordless “oohs” for backing vocals and light acoustic guitar. But the band’s delivery is so convincing that you won’t mind. It’s this quality that’s the record’s saving grace, especially once their 80s influences start overshadowing their own style.
The two tracks that suffer from influence overload are the title track and “Show Me The Light.” The former will bring the Cars to mind with a strong bass rhythm and a shout-out chorus that surrounds one of the catchiest synth riffs put on record. It’s the type of song made for arena crowds to jump around to. It’s a missed opportunity for an amazing first single, rather than the average “Dreaming Of Another World”. As for “Show Me The Light”, it’s pretty much a slightly funkier version of “Hungry Like The Wolf”. The bass belongs in a dark, underground club. The shimmering guitar belongs in Wembley Stadium. The percussion is where the similarities shine the strongest. But in both cases, it’s not a straight rip-off of the New Wave movement. Instead, the band creates a potpourri that mixes the best of themselves and the best of their influences into captivating hooks.
The main problem with Serotonin is that it loses steam about two-thirds of the way through. After the mostly upbeat rock of “Lady Gray”, the remainder of the album isn’t as melodically interesting or catchy. What tied all the earlier songs together were their addictive hooks, some of which will get stuck in your head for days. Sadly, these last three tracks don’t have this quality, making them difficult to sit through.
When all is said and done though, seven supremely catchy songs out of 11 is a pretty damn good tracklist. They make the whole effort worth a purchase. So if you’re a fan of those 80s rock bands that didn’t have big hair, you should pick up Serotonin. If not, you should still give it a listen. But don’t come blaming me if you have a random synth riff in your head all week.