Reissue of the sparkling 2008 debut album from Johnny Foreigner. Take a deep breath…
Release Date: 14th January 2022
Label: Alcopop! Records
Great things are afoot in camp Johnny Foreigner. Guitarist and founder, Alexei Barrow had appeared to have called time on the band in mid-2020, but it now appears that things are on the move again. The first rumblings of activity came back in July when rumours of a reconvention started to circulate; then came a ‘pick up the pieces’ show at The Dome, Tufnell Park, London, in early October and now, we’ve got the welcome reappearance of their ‘proper’ 2008 debut album, Waited Up Til It Was Light to enjoy. Things are definitely stirring – and it doesn’t stop here either! A string of gigs have been announced and there’s also a bit of gossip circulating with regard to a recommencement of recording activity. Joyous happenings indeed!
Johnny Foreigner formed in Birmingham back in 2005 and released a limited-edition, self-produced album, We Left You Sleeping And Gone Now, and a couple of EPs before getting round to this sparkling affair. By the time of Waited Up Til It Was Light, the band’s lineup comprised Alexei on guitar and vocals, Junior Elvis Washington Laidley on drums and Kelly Parker on bass and vocals. The album was recorded in Hoboken, New Jersey and its arrival was heralded by the release of three singles – Our Bipolar Friends, Eyes Wide And Terrified and Lea Room. Four more albums were to follow, most recently 2016’s Mono No Aware, by which time the band’s lineup had been augmented by visual artist and second guitarist, Lewes Herriot. Then came that announcement in 2020, and we thought it was all over – but it wasn’t, as recent events are unfolding to tell us!
And that’s good news indeed – Johnny Foreigner are a live act par excellence – popular in both the UK and in the US – and the vitality of Waited Up Til It Was Light is an urgent reminder of what we’ve been missing.
Let me first say – whilst Waited Up… is stacked with fast, cacophonous energy, it’s far more than a run-of-the-mill punk album. The musicianship – Alexei’s often tortuous guitar, Kelly’s solid bass and Junior’s versatile drumming – is excellent; the vocals are dramatic, the lyrics are mind-bending, and there are interludes of electronica and even a folky bit to surprise us. If I was to use a 70s comparator (my default frame of reference) I’d suggest that Johnny Foreigner’s sound is an imaginative amalgam of The Clash, Captain Beefheart and Deaf School, with each component getting a fair turn in the spotlight…
Post-launch single Lea Room gets the show underway – a slice of exhilaration that sets the scene perfectly. Jangly guitars and Kelly’s vocal provide a gentler intro to Our Bipolar Friends before the song returns to the routine business of scorching guitar runs – I love the breathless “You almost prayed for a sudden ending” that comes before – you guessed it – the song’s sudden ending…
Eyes Wide Terrified, the third of those singles that announced the album’s original appearance is almost poppy and probably the most accessible effort so far, and the bass-heavy “Your life is a song” outro is marvellous. The spirit of ’77 is alive and well in Cranes And Cranes And Cranes And Cranes; a shuffling drumbeat and some wonderfully crazed guitar provide the backing to a lyric that slams into the ever-creeping growth of tasteless urban development and the call/refrain chorus of “Ever(ry) Sing(le), sing(le) night(out) gets right inside your head.
The tedium of a performing life of one-night stands provides the subject matter for The End and Everything After, a feedback-led thrash, before things get decidedly heavy for the excellent Henning’s Favourite. Clean, with a solid bass foundation, it’s another song that explores the frustrations and mental strains of life on the performing road, using a potent mix of heavy riffage and garbled spoken word.
After all that thrashing and heaviness, the synth/electro trappings of Salt, Pepa and Spinderella come as something of a surprise – that is, until Alexei’s call to “Bring on the real front/Turn on the real drums” gives the signal for normal punky service to be resumed… The band’s tour de force, Yes! You Talk Too Fast appeared originally on the 2007 mini album Arcs Across The City and it’s reprised here to great effect. Alexei plays some driving guitar licks and screeches “I’d barely call this singing” as, in deference to the song’s title, he frantically garbles the lyrics.
And then… Another surprise! DJs Get Doubts is a quiet(ish) acoustic song, tucked right inside all the sparking energy – there’s even a few strings added into the mix! Alexei and Kelly duet in what I can only describe as ‘endearing disharmony‘ – just like Shane MacGowan and Kirsty McColl may have sounded if they’d tried to move a little further off-piste.
Sometimes, In The Bullring is a stunning slice of Beefheart-sprinkled power pop with a fascinating lyric that (appears to) reflect the frustrations of a fracturing relationship and Yr All Just Jealous is bright, punky and accessible. And that’s nearly it… Kelly’s wonderful bass and Alexei’s tortured guitar introduce Absolute Balance, an agonized song of lost love. By now, everything’s turned up to eleven and the lyrics are totally lost in the mix – and perhaps that’s a shame because lines like “Her pasta was shit/She left with a CD still playing” are pure class! And that brings this breathless album almost to its conclusion. I say almost because there’s one more treat to come…
…Because after a half-minute of silence, the band crank up again for a final shot – clangy bass and jangly guitar introduce the imaginatively titled The Hidden Song at the End of the Record – the poppiest song of them all and a great way to end an exhilarating, sometimes challenging, but highly enjoyable album. Welcome back, Johnny Foreigner!
Johnny Foreigner will be hitting the road again in March, starting with shows at Nice n’ Sleazy, Glasgow on 25th March, Pop Recs Ltd, Sunderland on 26th March and Strangeforms, Leeds on 23rd April. Check the band’s website for news of further shows…
Watch the official video to Eyes Wide Terrified – a track from the album – here: