Johnny Flynn - Been Listening

Harry Milburn 17/06/2010

Rating: 4/5

Fantastically ramshackle and raucous Johnny Flynn's acclaimed debut may have been, but it was only enough to see him hanging onto the coattails of Mumford, Marling et al commercially. Thus, his follow up, the lengthy 'Been Listening', is an altogether more accomplished release; and sees him plug his guitar in, slow his band down, and take us around the world in 11 tracks.

From the Balkan sounding 'Sweet William Part II' to the Afro-drumming on 'Churlish May', it's quite a journey- and after the horn-heavy opener and current single 'Kentucky Pill' shows off Flynn's ability to write something indisputably pop-orientated and airplay worthy, its unsurprising the somewhat lacklustre follow-up 'Lost And Found' passes largely unnoticed. A mercifully brief jaunt into a cod-African drumming Vampire Weekend-style on third song 'Churlish May' just about works, but it isn't really until title track 'Been Listening' that the album begins to excite.

It's here we hear an electric guitar for the first time, as the seminal 'Flynn goes electric' moment sees him playing pretty guitar riffs over backing from support band The Sussex Wit. Whilst it's not Dylan at Newport, it is excellent all the same- melodic and expansive; the track soothes after the trumpet-drenched openers, and has the sound of a potential single- the kind of track that will see Flynn join Laura Marling on the airwaves long into the summer.

And whilst there's a definite nod to Marling's faux-autobiographical, assumed persona song-writing style here, on the excellent 'Barnacled Warship' Flynn writes with more wit than his elfin faced counterpart, before the Beirut-ish 'Sweet William Part II' shows just how odd his lyrics can be- at one point we hear 'now crispy young lover cried Maggie the glover'. It's testament to the strength of this record that a duet with Laura Marling is not one of the highlights- although 'The Water' is nevertheless a beautiful, timeless back-to-basics folk song.

It is, however, a bit of red herring- because the following number is an epic excursion into raw, expansive blues. It's probably the albums stand out moment. Of course, a former choirboy doing his best Muddy Waters impression really shouldn't work- but it does; as his newly-passionate voice becomes a husky, flat, barbaric yawping. Close your eyes and you're in a smoke-hazy 50s blues bar.

If all these new sounds might be a little too much for the 'A Larum' worshippers, 'Agnes' should be enough of a remedy- it sees Flynn take us back to the familiar surroundings of his debut. It's predictably catchy as hell. And whilst he doesn't quite seem ready to be singing 'the Earth loves her children' and 'end of requiem, end of the fight' on ambitious closer 'The Prizefighter And The Heiress', he isn't far away.

Well might Johnny Flynn, then, be launching his assault on the single charts astride the back of 'Kentucky Pill', but on this evidence he could take his pick from several of his efforts. Electric and eclectic, Johnny Flynn's sophomore release should be one for both critics and the masses alike.

Release date: 07/06/2010