Artist: Johnny Foreigner
Title: Johnny Foreigner Vs Everything
Label: Alcopop! Records
Release Date: November 7th 2011
“I’m not done with this, I’m not giving in, I’m not giving up on you we just got older…” So sings Johnny Foreigner front-man Lex on 200x, the third track on the Birmingham trio’s third, and very much brilliant, new record. Of all the lyrics that jump out on the first few listens, it’s the words above that catch the ear and perfectly set the tone for a record that takes the inspired playfulness of the bands previous work and shovels a shit-load of real life drama on top of it.
Before that puts anyone off you will do well to remember that Johnny Foreigner have always worn their heart on their sleeves, it’s just that the majority of the time they have hidden their more downbeat thoughts and feelings behind energetic, spiky guitars or Lex’s cheeky charm. On Vs Everything they decide to let it all hang out; we get mournful piano songs, slow acoustic strums, life-trodden lyrics and genuinely heart-wrenching sound bytes consisting of unidentified voices sharing personal accounts of the seemingly inevitable relationship between songs and broken hearts.
This is still Johnny Foreigner though and the wit, charm and unrelenting energy that won them so many fans in the first place is still present and very much able. The opening one-two of If I’m the most famous boy you’ve fucked… and With who, who and what I’ve got could be taken straight from debut LP Waited Up ‘Til It Was Light, while You Vs Everything finds them sounding as euphoric as they ever have done. For the first time though it’s what the band do around these moments that makes this such a rewarding listen.
The almost-fully instrumental Supermorning is a delight and sits alongside Doesn’t believe in angels as two of the most musically-varied and interesting songs the band have recorded. Other notable standouts include the six-and-a-half minute The swell/Like neverwhere which sounds like a classic Jofo number squeezed inside Siamese Dream-era Smashing Pumpkins, while the previously-heard Johnny Foreigner Vs You and closing track Alternate Endings Piling Up are the plaintive, down-and-out ballads you always felt they were capable of pulling off. The latter especially is both musically and lyrically the bands most fragile song to-date (“…and we lucked out I guess, found shelter in a storm. Caught between the clouds and we saw god I’m sure”) and closes the album in spectacularly sorrowful style.
And then there is New Street, you can take it, a song that begins in much the same vein as the aforementioned quieter numbers; Kelly and Lex trading softly-sung lines over some lovely guitar work. The song is then turned on it’s head as a slow-building coda enters proceedings which consists of Lex repeating the simple line “You kinda always know when it’s over” over the top of slowly-building guitars before the song erupts into a cacophony of noise led by JR’s incessant and inspired drumming. The complexity of the music juxtaposed with the almost-childlike simplicty of the lyric just adds to it’s impact. To says it’s probably the best thing you’ll hear all year is a given and you could quite easily argue that it’s the bands greatest moment to-date.
The narrative strands of ever-growing world weariness and the effects of music on a broken heart that quietly thread their way in and out of proceedings, effectively, and somewhat devastatingly, tie everything together. The result being that for perhaps the first time, as far as Jofo are concerned, we’re left with a record that is truly and brilliantly complete.
Apropos of nothing, it’s simply difficult to imagine quite how Johnny Foreigner could have made a better record than the one they present to us. The fear from some was that a seventeen-track, fifty-six minute album would be over-egged and as a result would be something of a mess. Thankfully the record flies by and there’s genuinely nothing here that seems out of place and in fact to remove one part of this record would be to disrupt the absolute balance that it has; and it’s that balance, coupled with a some great ideas and a shed-load of heart, that makes this album so very special.
Johnny Foreigner Vs Everything? There’s really only one winner.
Words By Tom Johnson
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