Johnny Foreigner - Grace and the Bigger Picture
Chris Tapley 11/11/2009
Despite my best efforts I've never been able to grasp the hype that surrounds Johnny Foreigner, it's always sounded to me like a bit of an ill considered mess which lacks the necessary charm to be fully enjoyed. It has a certain likeable immediacy, but there's very little substance to be taken form it beyond those first few listens. Repeated listens to Grace and the Bigger Picture has gone a small way to rectifying this opinion, but I still just don't quite get the unanimous praise with which they're so regularly showered.
If you were one of those previously guilty of such showering then it's likely that you'll be equally enamoured by this record as you were by previous output. Like their debut it's primary quality is it's relentless energy, from the opening bars of Choose Yr Side and Shut Up right through to the end the pace rarely lets up. This is also to it's detriment though, such is their seeming desire to rattle through the tracks as rapidly as possible that they seem to quickly forget about the songs that ought to be lurking just beneath the whirlwinds of chaos. There are moments where everything seems to work perfectly like the rumbling kineticism of Security on the Promenade, but more often that not that fiery enthusiasm wanes not far beyond the opening of a track. They then fizzle out in to nothing as the sugar wears off, it is only Junior Elvis' drumming which seems to be driving the majority of the songs towards any kind of conclusion but it rarely materialises as it should. There are a few more subdued moments which display the versatility that Johnny Foreigner possess and this just makes even more frustrating that they don't utilise it as often. The stark melancholy of I'll Choose my Side and Shut Up is captivating and a perfect counterpoint to the brattishness which precedes it, as such it's a real shame that it's one of the shortest tracks here. The pace of the album would be far easier to digest if it were split up with a few more of these transgressions.
The high point of the album manages to balance all of these elements perfectly. More Heart, Less Tongue begins with a jaunty piano melody which recalls Regina Spektor before adding spurts of scuzzy guitar and hamonised chorus, a charming love letter to their fleeting affairs with the various cities they've passed through on tour; 'Might as well be Glasgow, might as well be Tokyo, or any place we're almost leaving'. They come close to matching this with the closer The Coast Was Always Clear which begins with a high octane squaling riff which whirls around the still and composed vocals. They are like the calm amid the storm and they bring to the track a sense of reflection and self awareness which is sorely missing from the rest of the album.
At fifteen tracks Grace and the Bigger Picture spreads the band's abilities far too thin. There are flashes of the exciting band which Johnny Foreigner could be, I just don't think that they're quite there yet. The songs need more focus but I'm beginning to understand the fuss and if they continue to hone their sound then it's possible that their next album may just be deserving of it.