Wayne Hussey and the Mission had essentially disappeared following the creative black hole of ‘Blue’. The 1996 release created a schism between band and fans – the Blue Nun-guzzling songwriter and once press darling seemed gone for good. All fell silent until Hussey resurrected the band with co-founder Craig Adams for a one-off tour with Gene Loves Jezebel. Adams’ brief tenure with the Cult brought about the inclusion of drummer Scott Garrett, and Mish mainstay Mark Gemini Thwaite completed the line-up. Captured for posterity on the bootleg recording ‘Ever After’, the new look Mission sounded fresh and vital for the 2000s. While the news of new music barely made a ripple outside the bands depleted fanbase, it would be an important step in rebuilding their legacy.
‘Aura’ is a decent return to the Mission’s tried and tested early sound, dressed in the modern production techniques they’ve picked up along the way. Lessened reliance on the 12-string guitars gives the record a muscular rock spine that propels its greatest moments – ‘Shine Like the Stars’ and the wah-wah-heavy ‘The Light That Pours From You’ – into new, decidedly ‘un-Goth’ territories. Hussey sounds reinvigorated and in fine voice, with the rapport of the band members lending focus and cohesion to the tracks. David M Allen’s production – he had worked with Wayne and Craig on ‘First & Last & Always’ – is sharp and uncluttered, every nuance well-placed and clear.
Tactically, the album opens with the quartet in pop mode: ‘Evangeline’ manages to shake up some second-wave D minor riffing with a sugary lustre scarcely felt since 92s ‘Masque’ period, and despite the awkward lyric, the chorus and ‘Gimme Gimme Gimme’ bridge are good enough to keep the song afloat. ‘Lay Your Hands on Me’ recalls live favourite ‘Hungry as the Hunter’ but creates something far more entertaining. Hell, this band could swing, and it’s these subtleties that make ‘Aura’ compelling and less self-conscious of the past.
Yes, ‘Dragonfly’, gorgeous as it is, does resemble 1989 hit ‘Butterfly on a Wheel’ a little too closely – and ‘Happy’ is completely disposable – but ‘(Slave to) Lust’ is the record’s big near-miss. Some of Hussey’s most compelling music is destroyed by juvenile Freudian navel-gazing. While sex is a topic the Mission have always revelled in, they usually manage to make it fit. ‘Lust’ comes off as a little embarrassing by comparison. Mercifully the quality of ‘Shine Like the Stars’, ‘The Light That Pours from You’ and the sleepy ballad ‘Cocoon’ keep things balanced.
A two-disc rerelease was issued in 2014 featuring ‘Aural Delight’, a limited edition outtakes set originally seeing the light of day in 2002. This is the edition to look for, and I can’t help but feel ‘Aura’ would have been better with the inclusion of leftovers ‘Anyone but You’ and ‘Sorry…’ at the expense of the album’s weaker tracks.
All things considered ‘Aura’ is a strong comeback, an album Hussey and the Mish needed to salvage their tarnished reputation. Though they are yet to rescale the heights of their ‘classic’ period, fans still relish the inclusion of these tracks at gigs. While I could make the case for self-plagiarism, what band hasn’t borrowed from past glories? I mean, why wouldn’t they? Of the three albums they have made this millennium, ‘Aura’ is a deserved runner-up, chasing 2013s refreshingly sober ‘The Brightest Light’. Lovers of the band, the genre, or alternative rock in general would do well to add this to their collection.