Johnny Foreigner - You Can Do Better | Album Review | By Volume

I knew we'd never write. somehow that seemed alright. This counts as calling three years out. The Wrens - 13 Months in 6 Minutes
you-can-do-better

Johnny Foreigner

You Can Do Better

You kinda always know when it’s over. But you still carry on.

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Author: on March 4, 2014
8.8
Alcopop

Calling your album Vs Everything might feel like a bold, all-encompassing stroke of ambition when the idea first hits you — and honestly, that’s exactly what Vs Everything was — but when the smoke’s cleared and the dust’s settled and the sediment’s come to rest and it feels like the exhaustion you planned for has exhausted itself, it must start to feel like a pretty dumb move. Just for a moment, you wonder how this band, so lovably and defiantly impulsive, could start to craft a vantage point on new enemies. Sonically and lyrically, Johnny Foreigner Vs Everything felt entirely entire, with the band’s best quiet songs and best loud songs and best neither songs up to that date. Alexei Berrow told GoldFlakePaint recently that he felt weird about writing a new record pretty soon after Everything‘s release.

It probably feels it to their fans, too — the epic nature of what was communicated through that 2011 album worked both ways, and every time I hear those tracks back it feels final. Telling, then, that what Berrow and company apparently perceive as a snapping and rebirth of the band feels like home in the first instance; that’s to say, restless rhythms abound, punctuated by screeching guitars and yelped choruses. “It was patience that choked us in the end“, it goes, and it’s that easy, really. Energy is a funny thing, in terms of both the hackneyed musical notion and the fuel we need to keep going. It’s funny because you’ve either got it or you don’t.  No amount of feeling shattered will save you from bursting to life, given the right combination of motivations. Turns out JoFo are that combination of motivations. Who knew? Well, all of us, basically.

So, joined by new guitarist Lewes Herriot, Johnny Foreigner return to basics with a ten-track record which beautifully encapsulates the damage they can do to your ears and your emotions in the space of just over half an hour. This is no Hello Sadness, no shrinking to the bare-bones to avoid confrontation; there are new ideas, new niches for sound peppa‘d throughout, like the gorgeous and gloriously named “Riff Glitchard”, which blooms as an electronic soundscape around keys for Kelly Southern to wade in: “I might as well be an organ in your body / the damage I do when I do nothing.” Elsewhere, there “is no hidden door at Leinster Gardens” when the noise drops out of “In Capitals”. I misheard this lyric as “there is no hidden door at lengths to go down“, but Johnny Foreigner are the kind of band I don’t feel guilty towards when that sort of thing happens. It’s all part of the fun.

Is it okay to say that for the most part, Johnny Foreigner have not improved over the best part of a decade? Because their first record, Waited Up ‘Til It Was Light, captured me more than any debut ever has even now, and they’ve gone from strength to strength since, melodic and passionate and sincere (even whilst laughing). But they couldn’t have written a song as singularly perfect as “Le Schwing” those years back. You Can Do Better‘s penultimate cut is a Johnny Foreigner with poise and charisma beyond their ample talent. A real new dimension of great, which like much of the record, will not leave my head. “I light another cigarette and I wait with my doubts“, Berrow explains before the song accelerates downhill towards a stunningly catchy hook-line courtesy of Southern’s voice, her words somehow bringing the layers of guitars down to earth. “I hope you shrugged and rolled your eyes“, she sings. You Can Do Better is above such dismissive gestures; “I’ve come a long way by looking back“, closing track “Devastator” declares, before Laidley’s drums have even started to build to their dominant climax. Damn straight, folks.

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