By: Gaz Cloud
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Released on April 27, 2015 via Play It Again Sam
Mew’s latest album was long overdue – it’s been 6 years since No More Stories… was released. In that time, a larger, mature audience for has emerged, who would be sure to connect with the band’s blend of pop, progressive leanings and epic indie upon exposure. With original bassist Johan Wohlert back on board, having now raised his child whilst working with his partner as The Storm, a triumphant creative and commercial return looked to be inevitable. However, if this reunion hinted at stability, the subsequent departure of guitarist Bo Madsen shattered any such illusions. It also means that +- may be only additional record to feature the four piece in their most familiar configuration.
The changes of personnel make the album’s title, +-, seem apt. This impression is strengthened by an uneven track listing: the album is, in fact, full of pluses and minuses. Opener ‘Satellites’ is an anthem that encapsulates everything the band do best – strident guitars and soaring vocals, with punchy bass and drums working in unison. The song treads a fine line between stadium rock aspirations and the indie invention necessary to delight the bands legion of fans. ‘Water Slides’ provides the other clear standout moment, and was also selected as the second single. This may be one of the most heart-wrenching numbers Mew have ever written, with a refrain is so catchy it’s hard to recall the tune to the verse.
The run of brilliant tracks that characterised the start of Frengers, arguably the band’s biggest creative and commercial success, never quite materialises. The record seems designed to be digested as two sides, whether bought on vinyl or otherwise. There’s a downward energy curve, from impactful rock through to epic splendour through the first 5 tracks, and this sonic voyage is largely repeated on the second side. Throughout, Mew show a willingness to experiment, and it’s pleasing to see them set aside their trademark timbres to investigate new musical climes.
In spite of not scaling the heights of Frengers, there are plenty of noteworthy moments on a disparate first half. Kiwi Kimbra adds some inspired vocals to the otherwise pleasant strumming of ‘The Night Believer’. ‘Making Friends’ is a mid tempo ballad with a tinny funk guitar line that sounds out of place next to the bombastic synth chords that are deployed shortly afterwards. The result is like a budget version of the majesty associated with the band. ‘Clinging to a Bad Dream’ opens with leftfield tones seemingly inspired by the gamelan, before this experimentation gives way to a classic Mew refrain, as Jonas Bjerre intones “I know it’s difficult”. For a band whose lyrics are often frighteningly hard to make sense of, much of +- seems positively direct.
The second set of five tracks opens with ‘My Complications’, which overlays a sustained arpeggio pattern with a cute offbeat descending guitar riff. ‘Interview the Girls’ sees Mew return to safer territory, but with one of the album’s better tracks. ‘Row’ is Mew at their most raw and delicate – a 10 minute plea that builds in intensity for the first 8 minutes. Bjerre’s peculiar utterance “I’ll be a ninja; We’ll be dead all the same” is a moment of light relief in a melancholy ballad worthy of any tears it prompts. The song closes with a neo-classical coda, initially driven by percussive one-note piano parts and snatched choir “ahs”, before Silas Utke Graae Jørgensen’s drums power the listener through to a justified fade out – this should have been the last track on the record. Instead, that honour goes to ‘Cross the River on Your Own’, a plaintive 6/8 number and in many ways a more typical Mew closer that benefits from a characteristically freeform guitar solo from Madsen, maybe his last with the band on record.
It’s impossible to call +- an out and out success, given the talent contained within Mew’s ranks, and also the calibre of their best work. But it is a beautiful, stately album, and a worthy addition to their legacy. With any luck, the newly emerged demographic for Mew’s music will devour this album and its success will prompt a legion of neo progressive converts to investigate their brilliant back catalogue.