Johnny Foreigner Grace and the Bigger Picture Review

Released 2009.  

BBC Review

Raucous bursts perfectly counteract the band’s measured, intentional breaks.

Luke Slater 2009

Birmingham noise-pop trio Johnny Foreigner don’t do compromise. ‘Make it loud, make it quick’ is about their philosophy. Some may look to their contemporaries for reference, but theirs is as much a case of having one foot in the present and one in the past, taking cues from the soaring riffs of bands like Sebadoh combined with the urgency of the current Los Campesinos!.

If there was a criticism of last year’s debut, Waited Up ‘til it Was Light, it’s that things were a smidgen one-dimensional, with repeat listens failing to fully impose on the listener despite the immediacy of its foot-stompers, which are abundant this time, too. On their second LP, Grace and the Bigger Picture, a watershed is reached. The crash-bang-wallop chunks are nothing but bite-size treats, with ever-present warring boy-girl vocals from frontman Alexei and bassist Kelly the mainstay and signature. This duel manifests itself in various ways throughout; the swaggering, distorted, pounding opener Choose Yr Side and Shut Up being answered by the heart-strung, unadorned female-led lament of I’llchoosemysideandshutup, Alright?.

Make no mistake, GATBP is a non-stop rocking ruck from first ‘til last, and this weighs out both in the positive and negative. This jackhammer energy is their very essence, the reason for being but, it’s a tough ask to savour any of the high-end moments instantly, with little left lingering in the mind. With just the one song breaching the three-minute mark, a feeling of daze is perhaps unsurprising but, like the moment you reach a threshold of a joyous inebriation, everything after that point becomes a blur scattered with moments of remembrance, yet beautiful ones.

The crucial variation emerges in the instrumental crescendo of More Tongue, Less Heart, the hidden track at the album’s end and Every Cloakroom Ever, which takes a more melodic and fuzz-laden approach. Yet, there’s little that can be done to restrain the blitzkrieg – even tracks which proceed at a relative stroll ultimately accelerate to characteristic hyper-speed guitar squalls and vocal screeches.

It’s almost certainly a cliché to suggest bands progressing towards maturity and ‘honing their sound’ with each release, but there’s a degree of that with GATBP. What we have is a constant; unlike their debut record, which was a bundle of punchy peaks and troughs. The raucous bursts perfectly counteract the measured, intentional breaks, leaving us with a group closer to completing their own jigsaw.

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