Album Reviews

Johnny Foreigner – Grace And The Bigger Picture

(Best Before) UK release date: 26 October 2009

Birmingham three-piece Johnny Foreigner seem to enjoy getting out of the country to record their albums. For their first – 2008’s Waited Up Til It Was Light – they decamped to Hoboken. This time round they recorded in Brooklyn. It is interesting, then, that their music manages to retain a distinctly British feel and character, despite this and their (presumably jokey) name.

The band fit into that small category of acts doing the rounds in the UK at the moment that blend a love of riffage and shoutiness with an indie-pop aesthetic and a sort of self-conscious naivety. Indeed, the band themselves namecheck (on their website) and have toured with other leading proponents of this sub-genre such as Los Campesinos! and Dananananaykroyd.

So, you get your big noisy guitar riffs on tracks like ebullient opener Choose Yr Side And Shut Up!, I Woke Up On A Beach In Aberystwyth and Dark Harbourzz which, combined with the length and detail of some of the song titles, almost sound Emo; certainly punky, in places.

Then you get the delivery, with lots of excitable shouting, and lyrics delivered as! if! punctuated! with! exclamation! marks! (Security To The Promenade, Ghost The Festivals, Criminals). Much of this is delivered in alternation between the female (Kelly Southern) and male (Alexei Berrow) vocalists, contributing to the enjoyable urgency and sense of fun, with which much of this album is infused.

A large proportion of the songs are upbeat, driven along by a kind of manic joie de vivre. They sing of “holiday heaven” (Security To The Promenade), festivals and “rolling hills” (Ghost The Festivals), Summer (Feels Like Summer) and throwing “parties in the yard” (Custom Scenes And The Parties That Make Them), to an extent that can occasionally become wearisome.

This youthfulness is reinforced by student-y references to “student unions” (Security To The Promenade) and “University lovers” (Feels Like Summer), and the male vocal, in particular, can sometimes sound like an imitation (deliberate, or not) of a bratty child, particularly on More Heart Less Tongue.

The band are at their most enjoyable when they surprise and subvert expectations. Uchoosemysideandshutup, Alright is, once you get past the daft title, a gem: a beautifully sung ballad; slow, regretful and heartfelt. The short (Graces) is similarly well-delivered, and both of these tracks introduce a welcome change to the otherwise breakneck pace of the album.

Probably the most impressive track, though, is Every Cloakroom Ever. In a possible indication of an potential future direction for the band, it is almost from the R&B rubric in melody and vocal, also featuring some satisfyingly heavy synth chords, before the the guitar riffs make their inevitable appearance as the track progresses. Also good, though less innovative, are tracks like More Heart Less Tongue (and its companion piece, More Tongue Less Heart), I Woke Up On A Beach In Aberystwyth (which has definite single potential), and Dark Harbourzz.

Less enjoyable is the tedious inclusion of a “hidden track”. Tacked on the end of last track proper The Coast Is Always Clear, this – as so often with such devices – compels the listener to wait through several long minutes of silence, only to be rewarded with a sketched out doodle of a song whose delivery doesn’t compensate for the time spent waiting for it to arrive. Pretty pointless.

Thematically a lot of the songs featured refer to the sea or seaside – with titles like Security To The Promenade, I Woke Up On A Beach In Aberystwyth, Dark Harbourzz and The Coast Was Always Clear – although it is hard to extract an overarching message from this. Perhaps the band just like the sea.

Said to be an invigorating live proposition, it is perhaps in that context that many of these songs could be shown to their utmost advantage. Collected here, their cumulative mass can sometimes grate a little, although it would be a jaded individual indeed who wasn’t able to find something to relish in the band’s sheer energy, spontaneity and fun.

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More on Johnny Foreigner
Johnny Foreigner – You Can Do Better
Johnny Foreigner – Grace And The Bigger Picture
Johnny Foreigner – Waited Up Til It Was Light