There is little about No More Stories... that immediately appeals to listeners. Full-length number five from Mew, Denmark's finest (only?) art-pop-prog ensemble, is an unwieldy and utterly massive recording with a baffling title to match: No More Stories/Are Told Today/I'm Sorry/They Washed Away/No More Stories/The World Is Grey/I'm Tired/Let's Wash Away. If you can look past the level of pretension associated with titling your album with a poem, you'll discover a recording of absolute beauty.
Mew's constant struggle is a result of cramming the square-peg rigidity of arty prog rock into the round-hole predictability of accessible pop music. This trio might either be the most brilliant of self-sabotaging pop acts, or perhaps the finest musical evolution of a childhood spent absorbing both Rumours and In the Court of the Crimson King. All these compounded elements are ripe for critical acclaim and a dismal commercial showing, but Mew have bucked the trend—the more their sound has expanded since the early days of being yet another late '90s act trembling in the wake of OK Computer, the more success they've achieved.
Mew's first few albums were shrouded in deep secrecy thanks to their record label (Sony) deeming the band unfit for unsophisticated American ears. Without a domestic release and saddled by steep import prices—I once paid $23 for an import copy of their 2003 release Frengers, then immediately wrote the band's management and Sony offering to personally release the album in America (they respectfully declined)—the band was unknown in the States. Yet Mew garnered the attention of R.E.M., who handpicked them as the opening act for their European tour. Despite a noted global presence and fans' willingness to overspend on their imports, Mew and America were destined to never meet, especially as the band became immersed in complicated writing structures, eventually barricading themselves in the studio to roll tape on one extensive song originally intended to stretch over an entire full-length.
That record, And the Glass Handed Kites, eventually found its way to the States—albeit a year after its initial release—where the high-pitched, angelic voice of singer Jonas Bjerre immediately resonated with fans. Mew's least accessible recording immediately became their most successful, a fact Bjerre is still unable to accurately decipher: "I don't know why that was, maybe it was a timing thing. You can't really second guess the nature of what people are into."
No More Stories... fittingly opens with "New Terrain," where Bjerre's fragile voice is looped—forward and possibly backward—then layered over a thunderous instrumental backdrop. It's a grand gesture of an opening, one quickly toppled by the stop/start precision and abrupt shifts of the album's unlikely single, "Introducing Palace Players." The improbable musical path stomped out through No More Stories... continues with the ethereal "Hawaii Dream" (on which the album's full title is sung in a ghostly whisper) all the way to the Flaming Lips-esque druggy freakout of "Sometimes Life Isn't Easy."
It's too early to tell if Mew will find patient listeners willing to negotiate the twists and turns of No More Stories..., or if their purse strings will be snipped by the label that was previously so reluctant to have faith in the band. Regardless what happens, Bjerre is prepared: "We always do what we want to do and hope for the best. We just have to be whatever we are."