There is a happy land where the Mission never went off the boil, where the desperate maneuverings of Masque and Neverland never sent them spiraling away from what they did best, and where the upheavals and evils of the past ten years never once impacted the gorgeous gleam of post-Zep atmosphere and pre-Hollywood Tolkien-esque fantasy that was the hallmark of their best (first two) albums. It is a land that has been on regular display on-stage since the band's late-'90s reformation, but Aura, a U.K. release in 2001 that finally reached America 12 months later, was its first studio manifestation -- and what a joy it is. With the spirit of "Serpent's Kiss" playing around its intro guitars, and an anthemic quality that cannot be ignored, the opening "Evangeline" insists from the outset that the reborn Mission are not here to simply make up the numbers. True, its S&M theme isn't exactly the most inspired lyric Wayne Hussey has ever come up with (the title rhymes with "whiplash queen" -- ouch), but ignore the words and the music washes you clean of every year that's elapsed since the golden age of "Severina," "Wasteland," and "Garden of Delight." Neither is it a one-off. Across 14 tracks (an untitled ballad is secreted at the end), Aura sounds like the greatest-hits album that never was, a succession of brilliantly conceived ghosts that reassemble all the Mission's proudest moments, then fashion something dynamically new and pure from them. True, "Cocoon" does glance in the direction of the Cure for its bassline, and "(Slave To) Love" wallows in that same discomfortingly sexually implicit trough as Masque's "Heaven Sends You." But who else than the Mission could even wonder what would happen if you conjoined Radiohead and Uriah Heep ("In Denial")? Who but they could conjure something so undeniably sappy, but achingly pristine as "Dragonfly"? And who but they would dare marry a mock-Morrissey lyric to a proto-Prodigy rhythm, and then cut it off after little more than a minute ("To Die By Your Hand")? From start to finish, it's the Mission back at the starting post, and straining to start the sprint. And, if Aura truly is the rebirth it appears to be, this time they might complete it.
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AllMusic Review by Dave Thompson