Album Review: Mew, ‘+-‘
As much as Mew have worn their progressive rock influences on their sleeve, listeners on either side of the prog divide should check their assumptions at the door when it comes to their new album, +-. The Danish quartet's first offering in six years -- and the first to include bassist Johan Wohlert since 2006's And the Glass Handed Kites -- the new album doesn't contain any passages likely to turn off listeners who recoil from the very mention of the word "prog." On the other hand, it also isn't likely to attract listeners who were drawn to Mew's tasteful touches of technical proficiency in the past.
Fittingly, the album opens with a harp-like string figure that sets a dreamy tone and ultimately gives way to driving guitars and busy drums. But by this stage, Mew lean considerably further in the direction of pop than prog. If frontman Jonas Bjerre's high-pitched vocals recall Yes singer and progressive rock icon Jon Anderson, the rest of Mew have taken their lesson from Anderson and company's classic 90125, a shining example of progressive chops blending seamlessly with pop radio appeal. In fact, Mew dive headlong into the soft-rock territory that prog supergroup Asia ventured into in the'80s.
Even on relatively hard-driving numbers such as "Witness," where drummer Silas Utke Graae Jørgensen uses his hi-hat to channel his inner Neil Peart, Mew never sacrifice concision or directness for the sake of indulgence. Like their British peers in Dutch Uncles, Mew came to the table with a knack for framing chops as hooks. But here, they go even further. On the synth-heavy "Making Friends," for example, they scratch at R&B and even hint at the sublime billowy emotion of Prince.
When bands like Mew have proven themselves at being adept musicians -- And the Glass Handed Kites was, after all, sequenced as one uninterrupted piece of music -- the only thing left to prove is how much they can rein in their chops in the service of songcraft. With +-, Mew embrace the challenge with apparent relish.