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- You Can Do Better by Johnny Foreigner
8/10 Mike Staff review, 06 March 2014
Johnny Foreigner the band are a strange thing, a kind of sonic recreation of the excitement of being a grunge kid in the '90s. Their first couple of albums were basically a breathless string of references to all their favourite bands delivered with a yelpy breakneck ADHD rainbow of nimbly tapped guitar lines and endearingly scattershot slice-of-life verbosity. Their first album was hit after hit, with cheeky nods to dEUS and Pavement tucked into intimate odes centred around their hometown of Birmingham; the second quite a lot like the first but not quite as good; and then on their sprawling third it started to look like this would be a band of diminishing returns as they bashed out a handful of gems, a couple of ill-advised bits of musique concrete made of earnest fan-submitted emo-nologues, and a final half hour where every song sounds like it's trying to be the epic album closer...but then when it finishes there's another one just as overwrought.
And so we find ourselves on album number four, 'You Can Do Better'. Is the title a nod to their slight loss of focus on that last LP? This is certainly a much leaner album, finding time to not only squeeze a bonus track on the LP but a little bit of silence before it like a CD from the '90s. 'No more songs about suicide," sings Alexei, "break the swagger in your stride"...is this Johnny Foreigner's growing up album? The twisty-turny guitar tapping and blustery vocals and chunky choruses are here, but this is a band who've picked up a few scars and stories along the way and developed into an undeniably taut unit. Combine that with the fact that grunge is undeniably back and their aesthetic doesn't sound nearly so incongruous in 2014 as it did in '06 when they started.
I think one thing that's interesting about Johnny Foreigner is that this is music which is unambiguously for teenagers, but it's delivered from the perspective of someone who was a teenager in the '90s. Who's it for? It's a gamble in a way, but they seem to be making music for their teenage selves, not for the adults they have become and not for contemporary teenagers either. That scrawny kid who spent lunch breaks hiding in filing cabinets eating fizzy cola bottles and listening to Urusei Yatsura grew up and never stopped being excited about how 'We Are...' made him feel, and decided there was a weird kid out there just like he used to be, and he wanted to make them feel the same way. And I've seen those kids out there at their gigs, this means something to them, this is their teenage angst transcribed into taut blasts of yelp-pop their parents won't understand, gateway band ambassadors for those kids who know they like pointy indie rock but haven't got as far as the Dismemberment Plan and Les Savy Fav and Rapider Than Horsepower yet.
I think this is their best album since their debut and part of me wishes I could go back 10 years to a time when its sheer neon audacity didn't make me cringe a bit - I think some time around 28 I kind of lost that desire to listen to records that made me feel like I was being pinned against my seat - but some 16-year-old somewhere will listen to this a thousand times and it will make their year a bit less shit than it would otherwise have been. Oh yeah, it's the first glittery record I've listened to that hasn't sounded like crap too, which was a relief.
In conclusion, 30-year-old me says 7 or 8 and 17-year-old me peers over my shoulder and says "don't be tight ya nobhead it's at least a 9 bruv" so I'm gonna say 8.
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