This is a review I wrote for Mew’s last great album ‘And The Glass Handed Kites’ from the last great year for music 2005. Listening to it 6 years on it has lost none of its gravitas – so big and all consuming, a remarkable record. ‘The Zookeeper’s Boy’ is included below for a taste of the sweet noise. Incidentally I awarded the album 9.5 out of 10 at the time, I’d probably give it a half point more now.
Concept albums as a rule have all the appeal of a run down suburb at night. To be honest I’m not even sure what a concept album is, I won’t be sprinting down to the local record shop because someone has made a concept album about football I can tell ya. The buck has always stopped at the music, without a quality output no amount of intelligent posturing is enough to persuade the listener. With this in mind ‘And The Glass Handed Kites’ is a frightening prospect in that it runs for almost an hour with no breaks whatsoever in between. There’s no point picking it apart in an attempt to digest it piecemeal, its true potential can only be appreciated when swallowed as a whole. You can tell the band wished it be so as the songs segue perfectly into each other and it’s sometimes difficult to know where one ends and another begins. So even after a month of consistent listening it still throws up parts that can’t yet to be deemed recognisable. That said, there are key influences sifting through all over such as Sigur Ros, the Cocteau Twins, Explosions In The Sky, My Bloody Valentine and the inevitable Dinosaur Jr moments.
Mew’s last album ‘Frengers’ was certainly a lot more approachable as it boasted songs like ‘Am I Wry? No’, ‘Behind The Drapes’ and ‘Comforting Sounds’ that worked as excellent singles. These were self-contained opus’s that needed little help from the album tracks that surrounded them. With the latest album, however, the grandiose texture of tracks like ‘Special’ ‘Apocalypse’ and ‘The Zookeepers Boy’ can only be fully appreciated when played as a triumvirate. ‘Apocalypse’ is the least likely single but as an intro piece for the 2 others it is compelling. Its ragged guitars tear strips from the paintwork and it’s only the opportune glockenspiel that tones down their aggressiveness. The baton changeover to ‘Special’ is faultless; the dense marching band percussion and searing organ leads to a sweet chorus that gently nods to the better dreampop purveyors. ‘Special’ is about as close as the album gets to a danceable beat as swathe after swathe of rolling riffs bathe in Jonas Bjerre’s fey vocals. ‘The Zookeepers Boy’ rounds off the mini opera in a typically offbeat manner. The lyrics are especially daft “You’re tall just like a giraffe, you have to climb to find its head. But if there’s a glitch, you’re an ostrich, you’ve got your head in the sand” but the tumbling chorus that consists of several layers of shimmering vocals is astonishing. Anyone not taken in by this piece of music would really need to book an appointment with Kelly Jones’ ‘could I be tone deaf’ specialist. You could think of these 3 songs as a good starting point in understanding the album. After this seek out the eloquent packages of ambitious sound like ‘Seething Rain Weeps For You’ that recalls the great Chapterhouse. ‘A Dark Design’ might have simpler notions but the riveting explosions of rapturous chords need embracing just like a child at Christmas when Santa forgets to call.
In the normal scheme of things ‘Circuitry Of The Wolf’ wouldn’t have stood a chance. The chopping guitars have little focus; the piano pieces are cold and detached and the bombastic prog solos are distinctly unflavoured. Yet at 2 minutes 30 seconds in the storm lifts and the angels take over. Before you can catch your breath ‘Chinaberry Tree’ is in full flow and the album begins to ascend towards the heavens. This is where you first witness Jonas Bjerre’s remarkable singing that while feminine in its approach has plenty of steel to handle the mountainous journeys he sets off on. ‘Why Are Looking Grave?’ throws in a Smiths like guitar dash and J Mascis in an altogether silly vocal performance. Sounding as if he just stepped off a 24 hour long haul flight after one too many fag breaks in the toilet his singing is overstretched. He also appears on the much better cut ‘An Envoy To The Open Fields’ but his input again sounds out of place like it was tacked on in the studio as a mistimed afterthought. These wrong turns hardly affects things, though, when there are moments as intoxicating as ‘White Lips Kissed’. Bjerre tones it down for once while some playing that Coldplay could only dream of fidgets around in the background. The albums most heart stopping moment descents as the naked drumming and distant heroics combine to paint a thousand words. ‘White Lips Kissed’ is almost 7 minutes long but is such a monumental piece of artistry you’ll tear up when it tapers. Remarkably ‘Louisa Louisa’ matches the dynamics of its neighbour. The production is clear and the playing is notably loose and sparkles through it own ingenuity. The cascading guitars, tripping drums and heavenly vocals eventually dip into a best-forgotten time until the slate is wiped clean again and the ecclesiastical finale puts a seal on the theatrics.
‘And The Glass Handed Kites’ is not only 2005’s most ambitious album it is one of this centuries true classics. Falling in love with it doesn’t come easy however, casual listeners are thrown little in the way of clues, and you’ll need to forage deep into its large canvass to figure out its worth. The album doesn’t bear any meaningful timestamp; it’s hard to tell whether it could have been a product of the 1970’s or a time in the distant future. One thing that isn’t in doubt, however, is its inherent longevity, no matter how many times this music ravages your hi-fi it will sound as fresh as the day it was first played. As long as music is in existence ‘And The Glass Handed Kites’ will be at the forefront coaxing would-be musicians into acts of masterful creation. Cherish this Danish band.
Mew – The Zookeeper’s Boy