I stumbled across Johnny Foreigner a couple of years ago after being plus one’d to a Stagecoach show. Funnily enough they weren’t playing, I just happened to notice a split between Stagecoach and Johnny Foreigner on the merch table (Big Love In) and I remember thinking “what kind of music does a band called Johnny Foreigner play?”. I was pleasantly surprised to find out it wasn’t anywhere near as garish as I had assumed it would be.
Johnny Foreigner seem to, for some unknown and completely baffling reason, remain in a group of brilliant bands people have never heard of. It’s not like they are a new band, with five albums and a plethora of EP and Single releases under their belt having been in circulation since 2005. It is almost heart breaking, except that there is one redeeming feature that a band like this has -being able to say the words ‘Hey, check out this band, they’re amazing’.
‘You Can Do Better’ is the culmination of a year and half of work for this veteran band and the first and foremost thing to point out is that it is a Johnny Foreigner album. They haven’t come back with any radical shake ups, no startling new re-evaluations and most certainly no change of pace. This album cements the Johnny Foreigner signature style that they perform so well.
Opening track ‘Shipping’ commences with an eagerness and spirit you could easily predict before you even hit play. Vigorous percussion from exceptional Junior Laidley wraps the frenzied guitar riffs in a cocoon of indie rock joy. A common theme of JF’s tracks is the consistent ebb and flow of power and pace against mellow vocal moments, and this is of course how the album begins and continues in the most part. Blistering drums, frantic melodies and a punk rock pace, sliced into with sweet vocal sentiments.
It isn’t until ‘Richard Glitchard’ that we see a change of tack. Opting for math rock guitar riffs in a lengthy, but relaxed instrumental introduction which, accompanied by an array of electronic samples creating a beautiful soundscape, allows Kelly Southern’s vocals some space to move and effect before building into a familiar territory of speed and punch.
When I first put on this record I was a little perturbed when it ended. It wasn’t the annoying heartbeat between Devestator and the Deaf Secret track, although that is a particular pet peeve of mine, but in fact that it felt short. I’ve come to realise, however, it isn’t short but concentrated. This is an attempt to be precise with the raw energy and passion that JF ply into their music and although it has a “blink and you’ll miss it” feel about it, that makes you want to concentrate and immerse yourself into it all the more. It is the epitome of the less is more mantra.
Although it could be suggested that this album is somewhat samey, it could never be considered generic. Johnny Foreigner have a great thing going on and continue to produce strong listenable albums that don’t gather dust on my shelf. It isn’t a bad thing when a band produces similar albums if the albums are so good, and if you take the time to look there is enough there to separate them from one another. ‘You Can Do Better’ is a concise, passionate example of staying power in an incredibly difficult scene that has seen many come and go, and if the next album is similar but just as good, I’ll still be just as impressed.
– Alex Fisher
Venue: You Can Do Better
Support Band: Alcopop Records