By Johnny Foreigner
Johnny Foreigner are a strange band in that they have consistently got great reviews including a 10/10 for their debut EP 'Arcs Across The City' on Drowned For Sound and an 8/10 for this their debut album from NME, yet they still remain an unknown quantity outside of their hardcore followers and have received little hype compared to what a lot of other new bands have. For those of you who have never experienced Johnny Foreigner before (or not read my review of them forshame on you!) they are a three piece from Birmingham who take advantage of having a female who can play bass and sing at the same time. And they make a LOT of noise. For three people they make an amazing sound, and their abovementioned debut EP showed a lot of promise. Their singles have been released with little fanfare however and radio play has been minimal at best.
But this is not necessarily a bad thing for the band. Things are been done on their terms, and their album sounds better for it. The overproduction that blights a lot of promising acts on debut albums is non existent here. It retains all the characteristics that made their debut EP such a joy to listen to and actually expands on them. Two songs from 'Arcs Across The City' actually make it onto the album ('The End And Everything After' and 'Yes! You Talk Too fast') but they are not just lazily taken from one to the other; these are new versions. Both songs have more urgency about them, in particular 'The End And Everything After' which bursts into life after a new reverbed beginning and continues with more layers than the original. Both songs are definite improvements and steps forward on the originals and deserve there place on the album.
New song 'Lea Room' opens the album, and it is the perfect introduction to Johnny Foreigner newcomers. Duelling male/female vocals and heavy on guitars with a constant keyboard riff that will get into your head after one listen. The guitars are so rich half way through and the sound is glorious. This is not a band short of confidence, or bothered how much they are or are not getting played on Radio 1. Handclaps, a bouncing keyboard line and the vocals will leave you screaming 'Get off before the ship goes down!' well after you've stopped listening to the song. 'Cranes and Cranes and Cranes and Cranes' (that's the title honestly!) also has the infectiousness of the opener and more interplay between the male and female vocals. We aren't talking Lisa Hannigan here though, this girl has a pair of lungs on her and isn't afraid to use them! Her powerful screeches are a feature throughout the album and she often dominates tracks.
It's not to say that Johnny Foreigner are all about making a lot of noise. It's the quieter moments on the album that actually stand out. There's a real moment of tenderness in previous single 'Eyes Wide Terrified' when the male vocal sings '... but he falls asleep on her shoulder every shift they work together, which is most nights' over a gentle keyboard line and this song is probably my favourite on the album. It also shows that Johnny Foreigner are a three dimensional group and this song could probably be the starting point for a second album. 'DJ's Get Doubts' could almost be classed as a ballad with strings employed and an almost choral backing. Both songs showcase the more sensitive side of a band that doesn't seem to take itself seriously and a side that will undoubtedly explored in the future.
Perhaps the best thing about the album is how each track feels organic, none of it feels forced or rushed. The shorter songs sound perfectly formed and leave you wanting more and the longer tracks keep you interested with some melodic work on the keyboard or more gentle interaction between the male and female vocals. The last song (marked on the case, there is actually a hidden track called 'The Hidden Song At The End Of The Record) 'Absolute Balance' is the perfect example of this. The vocals don't hit until 1:20 and for a band that has made their name on short punky pop songs this could be considered quite a risk. As it turns out, it's one of the highlights of the album. Shimmering guitars and more simple but effective work on the keys combined with a more understated vocal line make the first half of the song very relaxed before the drums up the tempo and it crescendos into a screaming cacophony of noise. The keys take back over to end the song and it again shows this is a band with grand visions more than capable of stepping out of their comfort zone.
All in all 'Waited Up 'Til It Was Light' is the perfect follow on to 'Arcs Across The City.' Bigger, punkier and more poignant than I could ever have imagined. It's nothing ground breaking and it hasn't bothered the top 40, but all things considered with the charts these days that's not a bad thing. The most important thing is Johnny Foreigner have hit a massive home run with their debut album for existing fans and newcomers, along with showing they have a lot more to offer in future albums. You may not hear or see much of Johnny Foreigner, but if you want to hear one of the most exciting albums of the year you should definitely search them out.