Johnny Foreigner - Grace and the Bigger Picture
There's two bulls standing on top of a mountain. The younger one says to the older one: "Hey pop, let's say we run down there and fuck one of them cows". The older one says: "No son. Let's walk down and fuck 'em all".
That's the speech Robert Duvall's wise veteran cop character gives to the hot-headed, trigger happy young rookie played by Sean Penn in the 1988 film Colors. If I could offer one piece of advice to the Birmingham trio Johnny Foreigner it would be that; “Walk down and fuck 'em all”. They may have enough firepower to keep NASA in rocket fuel for the next fifty years but boy do they know zip about fucking cows.
I'm guessing JF have a great record collection. I'm guessing most of it was released in 1991, (“the year punk broke”, etc). I'm seeing Pavement, Smashing Pumpkins, Lemonheads, Nirvana, Sonic Youth, Dinosaur Jr. Great, great bands, unquestionably. It's easy looking at the charts now to understand why youngsters would idolise these 'college rock' legends. I don't blame you. I really don't. I just think maybe something got lost in translation because Grace and the Bigger Picture is a real bitch to get through.
This is going to make me sound like an old man but GatBP is fifteen (Fifteen? Really? Really?) songs that are virtually identical. It's Attack of the Clones in there and it goes a little something like this... “Set the stopwatch! Two minutes ten seconds will be plenty, we're not bloomin' Pink Floyd. OK, now start off vaguely interesting and atmospheric, for ten seconds, max. Then GO! Everyone play really FAST. Don't worry about wet stuff like tunes or emotions - that's for girls, just LEG IT! Faster Pussycat!! OK now slow down...only joking, go FASTER! Oh I nearly forgot do lots of SHOUTING, yes lots of SHOUTING!...now STOP! Okay that's one in the can, fourteen left, we can get this puppy done by seven, I'm not missing The One Show". Seriously, it's that formulaic.
I'm not angry though, I'm just disappointed [pulls sad face]. These guys are smart (they haven't got much to sing about but at least they have the vocabulary) and they sure plays a mean pinball, but my final summation of this record is 'Imagine if the shouty bloke out of The Automatic made a solo record'. I mean the vocal sparring between Alexei and Kelly has the potential to be a modern day Evan n' Juliana, but it just sounds like five year-old bratty siblings arguing in the backseat throughout the world's most torturous car journey. On the hottest day of the year. In the middle of a gridlocked twenty-mile tailback. Seriously. Annoying. SHOUTING is the currency in this world. I can imagine the band's solitary request, spoken Matrix-style before recording,“We're gonna need SHOUTING....lots of SHOUTING”.
There are flashes of hope, but alas just flashes. More Heart, Less Tongue has an elegant piano melody buried deep beneath the standard issue blanket of razor guitar. Its flip reverse alter-ego More Tongue, Less Heart is also genuinely intriguing and being instrumental has – Thankyou Jesus - no SHOUTING! Graces is a sweet acoustic breather but, alas, is only 39 seconds long – you pesky kids! Every Cloakroom Ever is pretty good (Melody bits? Singing? Crikey!). The Pumpkins-esque finale The Coast Was Always Clear is the true salvation though. Atmosphere, depth, musical ambition. If this is the way the band is sailing, full speed ahead! It really is worthy of gentle applause especially as the journey was SO horrendous. I felt like I needed a montage 'recap' sequence with slow motion black and white footage of me having a breakdown set to an uplifting soundtrack. (The very end SHOUTY bit though is very, very crap).
I can't lie. It took a bloody miracle to cross the finish line. I felt like I deserved a silver foil blanket and a Mars Bars. I was so relieved, silence is SUCH an underrated joy. If you want the full ugly truth I had even started a list of things I'd rather listen to and it's not pretty. When during Feels Like Summer (the apex of the SHOUTING) I found myself writing “....Daphne & Celeste?” I knew things were serious. I had drifted into a truly dark place....albeit a dark place without lots of SHOUTING.
If you're 18 and enjoying Fresher's Week at University, Grace maybe musical nirvana. Not me compadre. I'm never going back, you hear me? [“What?”] I said I'm NEVER going back! Listening to Grace prompted me to do three things. One was sit and literally enjoy the silence once it was over. Two, dig out my Ash albums, they plough a similar field but always, always brought the tunes. Three, put my love for Johnny Foreigner into storage. I honestly had high hopes. Maybe it's not my time to love them yet. So don't take this as a rejection, just take this as “come back when you are ready to walk the talk”.