Johnny Foreigner – You Can Do Better

You Can Do BetterJohnny Foreigner have always been a band to write songs about what they know. From growing up in England’s second city of Birmingham (Waited Up Til It Was Light), through adventures as a band on tour (Grace and the Bigger Picture), to the trials and tribulations of life in general (Johnny Foreigner vs Everything); songwriter Alexei Berrow’s lyrical range has widened with every release. Correspondingly, the band’s musical vision has expanded. Debut Waited Up Til It Was Light shoves squealing guitar riffs and boy/girl yelps in your face with glee, but more recent albums have seen Alexei, Kelly and Junior experiment with downbeat melody. They've lost some of the snappiness that made them so much fun to begin with. All this brings us to You Can Do Better, their first album in three years, and an opportunity to show what a band does when they’ve covered “everything” already.

From the first swirling crash of drum, Johnny Foreigner sound like a band reborn. The opening one-two of "Shipping" and "Le Sigh" will leave you breathless in the space of five and a half adrenaline-pounding minutes. The former starts with the aforementioned drums and a killer guitar hook; the second  sounds like it burst  from the same session as "Eyes Wide Terrified" and "Yr All Just Jealous". This rejuvenated, full-throttled energy could be put down to the new addition of an extra guitarist, Lewis. He allows Alexei to let his fingers loose on his fret-board, like a hyper pac-man, without losing power or dynamism from the tracks. The dual guitar attack is supported by the ever reliable rhythm cavalry of Kelly and Junior, on bass and drums respectively. They keep every beat  in check while all hell breaks loose around them.

Johnny Foreigner really have created a sound of their own, and across You Can Do Better you can hear all of the elements that make a Johnny Foreigner record just that. Wailing guitars ("Wifi Beach"), abrupt starts and stops ("Le Schwing") and battling vocals ("In Capitals") are all present, but the band haven’t lost the creativity documented on their previous albums. "Devastator" is slow-building, minimal and full of self-loathing and regret. It climaxes in drama and ticks off to secret track "To The Deaf", which chimes beautifully and concludes with a brassy surprise. "Riff Glitchard" is a downbeat but sparkling track, reminiscent of "American Football" with its simple rhythm and bright guitar-line. It settles your pulse rate after the whirlwind opening. It also showcases Kelly’s vocals, which sit on the fine line between heart-wrenched and heart-wrenching, and contains the album’s lyrical highlight when she laments, “I might as well be an organ in your body, the damage I do, when I do nothing.” It’s in moments like this that you remember it’s been seven years since their debut release. Where they used to exclaim excitedly that “hot girls know the words to our songs”, they now anxiously sing, in unison, “I started drinking alone.” While the band have recovered their urgency, there’s no hiding their world-weariness, especially as they have always worn their heart on their sleeves so earnestly.

You Can Do Better is an odd paradox, simultaneously feeling like a new beginning and continuation of the old for Johnny Foreigner. It’s an album that will please current fans of the band and will hopefully bring in new ones with its infectious melodies, scrappy energy and raw honesty. It’s almost over too quickly, but what it tells us across ten tracks is that Johnny Foreigner are back with their punchiest , and best, album to date.

Release: 10th March 2014, Alcopop Records


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