by Casper Johansson in New Music on Wednesday 19 October 2011

Chinese Democracy famously took Guns n Roses 7 years to complete, full-time. Much has been said of Axel Rose’s obsessive, dictatorial nature, and his collaborators’ unwillingness to work under a despot. But its wasn’t a bizzarro-fascist recording environment which hampered Soul Delay. [download the album via this link]

The Mischief Engine’s debut album took almost as long to produce: six years elapsed between the first sessions and the final mastering. The difference is that its production was sporadic. Whereas Mr Rose could create and frustrate all hours, The Mischief Engine’s key players had record labels to run, TV commercials to direct, movies to appear in, and Michael Buble tribute shows to star in. They squeezed in an hour here and there, until every cymbal, sample and syllable was perfectly placed.

I’ve just downloaded Soul Delay (Business Class), having tasted their wares on Economy Class. It’s a truly remarkable work. Just as The Beatles discarded genre classification on their later albums, The Mischief Engine refuse to be neatly boxed. Blink rocks out like The Prodigy, My Oh My is a lullaby so sweet you could eat it off a stick, and Firegirl begins as a jazzy bubblegum ditty, only to knock you sideways with the phattest guitar this side of Biohazard.

Soul Delay (Business Class) is a concept album. But unlike the epic scale of The Dark SIde of the Moon, American Idiot or Tommy, this tells a more intimate tale. It’s about a dorky guy who falls for a girl online, then traverses the globe to meet her. The key creative force behind The Mischief Engine is Stuart McBratney, also a writer/director, and his penchant for comedy shines through. Take You Never Know My Name. It’s a track about the lead character’s failings as a pick-up artist, and could easily be a scene from a Woody Allen picture.

Maybe all bands should take the time to let music evolve. Maybe the downfall of record labels will allow more artists to create at their own pace, without the pressure of deadlines and sales figures. Maybe The Mischief Engine will encourage others to forgo genre expectations, and make whatever the hell tickles their fancy. Whether they’d arrive at something as inspired and beautiful as Soul Delay is a different matter.

In The Big Lebowski, the stranger says, “It’s good knowin’ he’s out there. The Dude. Takin’ ‘er easy for all us sinners.” It’s good to know that The Mischief Engine are out there, taken’ ‘er easy, allowing their ideas to mature, their melodies to evolve, and their production to reach perfection. But unlike Chinese Democracy, Soul Delay is well worth the wait.