As unlikely as it might seem, Wayne Hussey and the Mission UK are back in top form with their latest release, Aura.
Apparently, all Hussey needed was a little resurrection.
That's Resurrection with a capital "R," by the way . . . as in the title of the Mission UK's previous studio album. Released in the US through Cleopatra Records, the album was subtitled Greatest Hits, but what it found the band doing was re-recording their old songs. At the time of its release (1999), it seemed on the surface to be a last, desperate gasp from the Mission UK, with the band apparently trying to score a few more sales and a couple more dollars through the songs that made them famous. If nothing else, however, it apparently served to put the group back on track.
The band's previous two studio albums, Neverland and Blue, were veritable snoozefests, sorely lacking in the sort of epic goth-pop that brought the band to prominence in the first place. Hussey, as a former member of the Sisters of Mercy, used to know how to blend melody with gloom, but, somewhere along the line, he lost sight of the trail he'd been following, and the magic seemed to depart rather abruptly when Neverland was released.
(Some argue that Hussey started to wander off the path with Neverland's predecessor, Masque, but this writer ain't one of 'em. Masque features co-writing credits from the Wonder Stuff's Miles Hunt, as well as the Waterboys' Anthony Thistlethwaite; it's the least pretentious and most stylistically-varied album of the band's career. Plus, it features a fair amount of fiddle, which is rarely a bad thing.)
With Resurrection, however, Hussey revisited the songs that made him famous: "Wasteland", "Severina", "Beyond the Pale", "Deliverance," and "Butterfly on a Wheel", to name a handful. The arrangements were a bit different, with some adjustments in production, but the strength of the songs shone through.
Hussey's voice was still a force to be reckoned with, but when the Mission UK popped up the following year with the second live album of their career rather than a new studio album, fans no doubt began to fear that new material might be a thing of the past.
But then came Aura.
When "Evangeline", the album's opening track, kicks off, there's no question that the combination of Resurrection and Ever After (the aforementioned live album) resulted in some serious songwriting reinvigoration in Hussey. The track is unquestionably a spiritual sibling of "Severina"; that it was released as the Mission UK's first single in six years is unsurprising, since it's as classic a pop track as anything in their back catalog.
Indeed, anyone who enjoys the band's back catalog will find nothing but pleasure in Aura. While some of the tracks are musically reminiscent of the group's earlier glories, better they should crib off God's Own Medicine and Children than their later work. Actually, a better reference point for most of the album is Carved in Sand; the bombastic arena-rock arrangement of, say, "Lay Your Hands on Me", would fit nicely beside "Deliverance". "Happy" is a none-too-distant cousin of Grains of Sand's "Hands Across the Ocean". Even the fun side of Masque is briefly revisited, courtesy of "Burlesque". In fact, the only real throwaway track on the entire disc is "To Die By Your Hand", which blends a decidedly gothic lyric to an odd dance beat, but, since it's less than a minute and a half in length, it's gone before it does too much damage.
Sure, occasionally, the "borrowing" from the band's previous material is a little too noticeable. Case and point: the undeniable similarity of Aura's "Dragonfly" to Carved in Sand's "Butterfly on a Wheel". But it's just as easy to chalk that up to the fact that Hussey's dramatic delivery tends to sound similar from song to song anyway.
Even with that caveat, Aura is unquestionably the most consistent Mission UK album since Carved in Sand. While it technically may not find the band breaking any new ground, it at least finds them treading familiar soil for the first time in many years, doing it just as well as they ever did.