After the ridiculously appetising and resourceful persuasion of previous album Vs Everything in 2011, it is fair to say that the anticipation and excited intrigue for the new release from Johnny Foreigner was making intensive demands before a note was heard. You Can Do Better, the fourth full-length from the English quartet does not disappoint. It is another teasing and tantalising bewitchment of the already distinctive sound of the Birmingham band but one which delves deeper into their unique landscape of songwriting and imagination. As much as the previous album enraptured and enthralled, in hindsight it was maybe too ambitious in its bulk of seventeen tracks to avoid being a mix of the brilliant with simply the satisfying, which was a triumph all the same. Consisting of a mere ten songs plus a hidden treat, You Can Do Better stalks the sun side of unpredictable and magnificence from start to finish with offerings which maybe do not always master the same pinnacles of the last release but stands alongside it and with a richer impressive consistency across its adventurous narrative and sound.
Recorded with long-time friend Dominique James (Sunset Cinema Club) once again and the first release with new guitarist Lewes Herriot alongside vocalist Alexei Berrow, bassist Kelly Southern, and drummer Junior Elvis Washington Laidley, the Alcopop! Records released You Can Do Better has been eighteen months in the making. Berrow recently gave an ‘introduction’ to the album by saying “For the last year we’ve been messing around behind yr backs. It started with robbing drum intros from Blink 182 and ended with horns stolen from Screaming Maldini and in the middle we had these 10 (11) little encounters with a louder noise than you’d possibly be happy about. And if that sentence wasn’t enough of a secret map, we created an entirely probably fictional city for the whole mess to live in. Bands are supposed to mellow as they get older, idk quite what’s gone wrong“. As the release leaps upon and engagingly taunts the senses we can certainly confirm that Johnny Foreigner has not mellowed in presence or exploratory adventure.
Band and album rampage through ears from the first punk bred breath of opener Shipping, a tsunami of noise and rhythms engulfing the senses like the jaw of a sandworm in Dune. The entrance smothers and takes the listener into its cavern of shadows before expelling a loud graze of sonic endeavour and richly gripping hooks. The distinctive voice of Berrow is soon taking over centre stage as the song’s narrative entwines the imagination, extra suasion from the equally individual tones of Southern adding extra bait to the temptation. With a throaty bass coaxing from the lady only adding to the spice alongside the rattling rhythms of Laidley and the wonderful emerging consumptive discord, the track is a maelstrom of enterprise and unpredictability engaging and provoking thoughts and emotions.
The impressive start is exceeded by the brilliant Le Sigh, a track which slowly and mischievously walks into view before unveiling a glint in its eye as its persistently raises its energy and pace, easily drawing a greedy appetite for its thickening brew of synapse seduction through its indie dance of sonic bluster and twisted guitar twang. With the devilry of say Baddies and the almost belligerent ingenuity of The Sugarcubes mixed with the sultry temptation of Morningwood all laid in a bed of eighties discord, the track is a masterful temptress of rapacious rock revelry. The repetitive chant of the chorus with its minimal cladding also brings thoughts of Japanese band The Plastics, not so much in direct sound but simply the aural addictiveness.
The following In Capitals also takes a reserved gait to its invitation and equally builds a feisty compelling wall of bruising garage punk like enticement through raw guitars and magnetic vocals within a shuddering rhythmic frame. The bass of Southern pulls on a bordering on carnivorous growl for its prowl whilst the sonic confrontation of the guitars comes as a weave of acidic senses scorching enterprise. The power and imagination of sound here and for most tracks steals the spotlight initially with the rewards of the lyrical adventure and imagery coming in stronger potency through further encounters, this making the album a constant treasure trove to plunder.
Both the subdued caress of mystery from Riff Glitchard and the almost disorientating sonic brawl of The Last Queens of Scotland ignite the passions with their individual premises and inventive traps. The first is a slow smoulder of self-tempering textures and emotion hues; bass snarls contrasting guitar and vocal melodies with mesmeric emotive dependencies, whilst its successor is another fire of rabid rhythmic twists and guitar sculpted toxicity tempted and encouraged to push its limited by the equally vivacious and voracious dual vocal waltz. Being a sucker for discord in any form, it has to be said that by this point Johnny Foreigner has a tight grip with their one of a kind seduction.
Stop Talking About Ghosts flirts and romps with ears next, its entwining of bracing and disharmonious eagerness with reserved elegant shadows eventually merging into a greater transfixing anthemic riot of exhaustive rock ‘n’ roll before the more pronounced stalking enticement of Wifi Beach next takes over. It is a song which took longer to convince than others, its reflective and enjoyably messy soaking of the ears a deceptive slice of noise sculpting which without lighting fires proves to be one more highly pleasing provocation to immerse in. The same can be said about To The Death and Le Schwing in many ways, neither pulling out with ears that instantaneous connection of earlier songs but evolving over time into thrilling incitements, the first of the two especially persuasive with its riveting surface explosions of discord aligned to a rhythmic tango contrasting and provoking the song’s heavily shadowed emotional presence. The second of the pair sways and swaggers with a vague similarity to that elsewhere on the album, its body familiar but dressed in new hooks and mischief which ultimately leaves satisfaction and pleasure full.
The closing antagonist, DEVASTATOR is a strong enough conclusion to a great album but arguably a little underwhelming against previous songs, though the ‘hidden’ song To The Deaf which emerges from the silence after, is a compelling epilogue which has the album leaving on a greater high. With You Can Do Better, whilst retaining all the qualities and invention which made Johnny Foreigner an irresistible proposition, the band has evolved their presence into an even more unique and rather thrilling encounter through a quite outstanding album.
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