Critics have ruminated on for Johnny Foreigner since the release of last year’s mini-album, Arcs Across The City. With the release of the debut album, Waited Up Til It Was Light, and critical excitement reaching near climactic levels, it’s time to find out what all the fuss is about.
Johnny Foreigner is a two boys and one girl three-piece from Birmingham. Formed in 2005, the trio first started picking up speed with the release of 2006′s Sometimes, In The Bullring. Since then they have speedily pieced together a collection of songs so off its tits with creativity and ideas it sounds like the band have just been beamed to Earth from another planet.
First impressions stoke comparisons with Los Campesinos!, but to entertain this further than an initial similarity would be a) lazy journalism and b) wrong. Waited Up Til It Was Light sounds like a hurricane of fizzing guitars and roller coaster drums driving one of the most terrifyingly original and instrumentally talented bands to have leapt to the front line of the music industry for a long time.
Alexei’s guitar work is truly something to behold. The relentless, spiky riffs that tear through the album all sound wholly original, and utterly spectacular. His distinctive sound is without doubt Johnny Foreigner’s best asset; see Hennings Favourite for ear-piercing, shrieking riffs juxtaposed with beautiful, dancing chords. A comment on the band’s MySpace reads: “You’ve restored my faith in guitar”. Nuff said.
Vocally, the boy/girl double-pronged attack is at times inspired, and refreshing, but more generally speaking the album is pretty disappointing vocally. The formula seems to be yelp, not sing, and at times it really works, but after a few songs of Alexei’s relentless yelping it starts to get a bit tragically cool, pretty annoying, and a bit pathetic. Kelly’s vocals do provide a nice juxtaposition, and Johnny Foreigner are at their best when the interplay between the pair is most intense (Cranes And Cranes And Cranes And Cranes/The Hidden Song At The End Of The Record) especially when Kelly opts to sing over Alexei’s whines rather than shout her way through the album (Henning’s Favourite). The dodgy affected American accents do little to help their case (Eyes Wide Terrified).
But looking at Waited Up Til It Was Light less superficially, there are other, perhaps more serious flaws. Make no mistake, this album is as inventive and creative as you will hear all year, but the songs are at times so fractured, and crammed with crazy ideas, jostling for position that there is no point of reference. The songs that come through strongest are those that are less fractured, less explosively unpredictable (see recent single Eyes Wide Terrified/The Hidden Song At The End Of The Record/Our Bipolar Friends).
Further, there is precious pause for breath between songs. All songs are like one long death-slide, soundtracking the world flying by too fast to understand what’s happening. Welcome respite comes with Salt, Pepper And Spindarella, and enchantingly so with DJs Get Doubts, but nowhere else.
This band are fucking crazy, technically gifted, and ridiculously tight (The End And Everything After). God only knows the songwriting process that these songs underwent. For some the lack of a reference point, the dodgy singing, and the sheer pace of it all will be a turn off. Others will fall in love it. Johnny Foreigner’s originality and underlying talent make this record worth a listen. But it will polarise the masses. We just need to remind ourselves that that’s not necessarily a bad thing at all.