In 2008 Johnny Foreigner released their debut album Waited Up Til It Was Light and it was filled with fizzy pop-infused indie punk songs about how great and how shit Birmingham is. Everyone who heard it loved it, but no one heard it. In the six intervening years they have released copious amounts of music (including 2011’s critically acclaimed Johnny Foreigner vs Everything), toured the world and gained a new member in the form of guitarist Lewes Herriot.
Now, you are now up to date: You Can Do Better is the band’s fourth album and straight away difference new member Herriot makes is audible. Opener ‘Shipping’ is an adrenaline rush, pure and simple; the second guitar adding heft that the band were previously incapable of while also freeing singer/guitarist Alexei Berrow up to do his alt-rock Eddie Van Halen impersonation whenever necessary. The first track that was revealed for the album was ‘Le Sigh’, a jangly punk track in the usual JoFo template. While appearing like a fun sing-along, the lyrics focus being unappreciated by their local scene while the bands that are championed are nothing but sound-alike clones (“a copy of a copy of a copy”).
At ten tracks (eleven including the hidden track) and 40 minutes in length, this is their shortest album to date and there isn’t a single song that is surpass to requirement. Overall, the album has a frantic, teetering on the edge tempo . Their previous album dwelled on slower tracks like ‘200x’ and ‘Johnny Foreigner vs You’, but on You Can Do Better there’s only ‘Riff Glitchard’ that slows the pace. With its looped-sounding instrumentation and heartbreaking Kelly Southern vocals cooing “I might as well be an organ in your body/The damage I do when I do nothing”, the track is reminiscent Jimmy Eat World’s ‘Goodbye Sky Harbor’, but played backwards as it starts slow and ends with crunchy riff-age.
While some things have changed, many things have stayed the same. All the Johnny Foreigner trademarks are here: delightful boy/girl vocal interplay (‘In Capitals’), robotic voices (upcoming single ‘Stop Talking About Ghosts’), distorted guitar squeals (‘Le Schwing’), splashes of synth (‘WiFi Beach’) and insane mid song time-changes (among others, the aforementioned ‘Riff Glitchard’). Drummer Junior Laidley has always been the solid backbone of their combustible sound and here serves the start-stop nature of the music perfectly, with restraint and a willingness not to over-drum. Because of the album’s sense of familiarity, it will endear itself to their current fanbase, while being pop-centric enough to reach new audiences.
Whereas most bands on their level of existence have petered out, broken up or stopped being relevant by album four, Johnny Foreigner have, with this new album, stayed as vital as they ever were. One notable exception to the fourth album rule is Biffy Clyro’s Puzzle, the album that transformed them from beloved underground concern to festival headliners. Possibly, this is the challenge that Johnny Foreigner have set themselves with the album’s title. Currently, they are playing pubs and selling to the already converted. They can do better. They could be bigger.
You Can Do Better is out 10th March on Alcopop! Records, and available via iTunes.