Not having been born in the 80s is something of a pain. Especially now with the recent renaissance of music inspiration that has seen many artists pilfering back through the decade. There is a certain shame to be felt listening to a record like Serotonin, knowing too well that it is steeped in 80s nostalgia but not quite realising what nostalgia. It’s probably safe to say that for my generation, that is the spawn on of the 90s, our cultural enlightenment of the previous decade has been mainly groped together from Grand Theft Auto: Vice City, Reflex (a chain of 80s nightclubs), Philadelphia and our parent’s record collections. Not that it stopped Mystery Jets gaining a further education in the record-ology of the period, despite most of the band being in their twenties.
They gave us a glimpse of how great a pastiche of the 80s they could make rolled into the single ‘Two Doors Down’ from preceding album Twenty One. With Serotonin it sounds like they took that single and stretched it out over an album. That might rather negative, but then ‘Two Doors Down’ was truly a great pop song, and well so is nearly every song on this album. It comes as not much of a surprise then to learn that Chris Thomas took over production duties for this album, who has worked on nearly every Elton John and Pretenders record. Of course this isn’t another Elton John album, these are 80s pop songs but self-aware ones with their neatly packaged references and yet unmistakably modern polish.
It is clear enough to hear that these are Radio 1 playlist friendly pop songs with a superficial nip-tuck 80s job over the top. Almost every song has something instantaneously memorable: ‘Lady Grey’ with its chorus of “Will you still love me in the morning?”, the chanting “Sero-Serotonin” in ‘Serotonin’ or the breakdown to ‘Flash a Hungry Smile’ in which Blaine Harrison pressingly invites us to “Make a little room for me tonight”. Sadly there are some duds too, ‘Too Late to Talk’ lays the 80s melodrama on a bit too thick with its cliché lines and awful synth-horn, or ‘Lorna Doone’ a song inspired by an 19th century trashy romantic novel that is oddly out of place, plodding along tediously and then fizzy out after five minutes.
Strangely enough with Serotonin it is most interesting at its most contrived. Once familiarity fades its pop-sheen, discovering all the 80s details makes it a joy to listen to all over again. Like looking up the properties of Serotonin, a mood-enhancer, that funny enough is stimulated by ecstasy, a process that is not-so-subtly the subject of the title track. Or the line “Have you heard the birds and bees/ Have all caught STDs” that could well be a reference to the 80s AIDs epidemic or just our own careless modern promiscuousness. And then there’s excellent punning of ‘Lady Grey’, a song about a one-night stand that is titled after the shortest reigning monarch. Everything is so cleverly put together that you can almost forgive its simplicity.
Serotonin is Mystery Jets refining their 80s pop sound to its finest. It’s difficult to listen to an album of pop gems like this, without a heady rush of your own serotonin to the brain. Mood alteration aside, while it does supress my every feeling that it is uninventive, a bit of a novelty and a play-safe move, I can’t deny that is nowhere as inspired as Making Dens or Zootime or even Twenty One. Song details and references might add some depth but there is nothing of quite the same poignancy of the previous two records. Still as 80s revival pop goes Mystery Jets have managed to make Serotonin not only a joy to listen too, but is somehow oddly relevant to us post-80s generation.