A surprisingly different affair from the prog/post-punk leanings of their impressive first album Making Dens, Twenty One sees Mystery Jets enthusiastically embracing the '80s retro craze so ubiquitous in the 2000s musical scene. Two key factors are at play here: first, father of singer Blaine Harrison, Henry, is no longer a full-time member, and the sudden drop in the band's average age comes with a much more youthful sound and lyrical outlook. Secondly, electronica DJ Erol Alkan steps up to produce, and his entrance is dutifully accompanied by a markedly dance-oriented new direction, complete with huge bouncing basslines, impossibly tacky synths, and all sorts of gimmicky effects. If any of this seems dismissive, think again, because Twenty One is an utterly terrific collection of pop songs that only professional cynics or musical snobs could possibly dislike. Mystery Jets take the hyperkinetic catchiness of Franz Ferdinand, but replace the Glasgow lads' arty irony with hopeless romanticism -- and you cannot help loving them all the more for it. An earnest and engaging singer comments on a series of boy-girl vignettes, supported by fantastically layered background vocals, ringing guitars, unerring melodic hooks galore, and instantly memorable choruses. The recipe may be well-known, but what a joy it is to find it alive and well in the hands of master chefs. Only a couple of more reflective tracks here and there hint at the band's past (and considerably diverse talents), and still function wonderfully in the context of the album. Yet the stars of the show are the hefty handful of perfect singles including "Hideaway," "Young Love" (a lovely, worldweary duet with Laura Marling), "Hand Me Down," "MJ," "Half in Love with Elizabeth," and best of all, "Two Doors Down," an absolutely irrepressible singalong that, had it been released in 1983, it would now be obligatory for all megahits compilations, among artists like the Human League, Cyndi Lauper, the Bangles, the Cars, Prince, and the rest of the usual suspects. A quarter-of-a-century later, Twenty One may not break new ground, but is without a doubt an instant delight for fans of great pop music done the British way, as well as one of 2008's best and most lovable albums.
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AllMusic Review by Mariano Prunes
feat: Laura Marling