Originally due for release in September last year, A Billion Heartbeats was rescheduled suddenly when vocalist Blaine Harrison was hospitalised with a serious leg infection and needed emergency surgery.
Harrison, who was born with spina bifida, regularly uses his platform in Mystery Jets to praise the invaluable work that the NHS has done for him and this country; it is by bitter coincidence that the re-release date finds us in the midst of a global health pandemic, but while COVID-19 shuts down the country this album rightfully urges us to fight for the future of our irreplaceable health service.
Long-time advocates for social change, Harrison and the other members of Mystery Jets have previously spoken out about causes like the refugee crisis, climate emergency, and mental health support. In January they hosted a discussion panel, broadcast on Youtube, to bring these issues forward ahead of the release of A Billion Heartbeats, with the aim to incite “the spirit of protest.” Harrison explains that, after moving into a house on Trafalgar Square, he would regularly watch demonstrations from groups representing all ends of the political and social scale, which inspired the writing of many of these songs. With the unifying power of music on their side, Mystery Jets hope to rally a response to cure a fractured nation.
Musically, it’s not a far stretch from their already established sound – only slightly heavier and a bit more raw in places – but it’s the passion, depth and reality behind the messages on this album that carry it leagues ahead of anything they’ve done before. Harrison’s highly recognisable emotive vocals are no longer singing tales of obscure romances but encouraging a movement and demanding action.
The boldest track sonically on the album, “Screwdriver”, addresses the idea of alt-right, and spreads a desire to eradicate the hate in this world through love, belting out “An enemy is only what you fight them with”. Elsewhere, fingers are pointed at those in charge on “History Has It’s Eyes On You”, while also looking at our responsibility to one another, to shape a more positive and united future.
The heaviest emphasis of course comes back to our health service, with the first single released off the album, “Hospital Radio”, being a now-even-more heartfelt “thank you” to all the NHS workers, and a rally to save its future from a money-hungry government, ending with the chanted refrain “OUR BLOOD IS NOT FOR SALE!”
While the emotional yet innately positive “Watch Yourself Disappear” is a more in-depth look at the crucial mental health services that the NHS provides, the album’s title track calls on humanity to keep in mind that underneath it all, we are all the same. Opening with the painfully relevant question, “Why does it take a tragedy to make our true colours come out?”, we are reminded to help one another and to feel for one another - to breach all divisions within our society and to show compassion.
In a time where many may crave escapism, A Billion Heartbeats might hit a little too close to home to really be appreciated right now. But in the difficult coming months it’ll be important to be reminded of the values of unity that Mystery Jets are campaigning for here, and there’s no doubt that we’ll look back on this album as an essential sound of the unparalleled social climate of 2020.