Review Summary: 'And I know that we're good - I know that we're close - but God knows what you'll think of us'
Ever grimace when you see Razorlight's new album under the heading 'indie'? Ever walk into your local music store and move Coldplay back to 'pop' or 'soft rock', where they belong? Ever wonder whether the last five years have brought about an inexplicable void of vaguely catchy guitar music in the place of boundary-pushing, genuinely exciting compositions? Listen in. I've got an announcement to make. Indie is not dead. About as far as you can imagine from the bland, commercial drawl of bands like The Kooks lies a trio of youngsters called Johnny Foreigner, hailing from the chaotic city of Birmingham, England. Waited Up ‘Til It Was Light isn’t a struggle to listen to, or a challenging album to penetrate, but it has considerably more about it than anything else assigned the 'indie' label in 2008.
JoFo’s first full length serves as a double-speed, blurred montage of the reckless side of your teenage years, spent under city lights, in love and moving way too quickly. Catchy, melodic hooks aside, these newcomers capture the frantic vigour and gritty realism of the Arctic Monkeys, but combine it with a slightly more breathless aura complete with handclaps, gang vocals and everything that makes you want to hit a dancefloor. Take first track Lea Room as your example of what never becomes a formula and you have at your eardrums exactly what makes this debut such a delightful listen; panicked guitar work on top of explosive drums and (notably) cymbals, a bucketload of memorable, witty or thought-provoking lyrics and the brilliantly youthful delivery of lead vocalists Alexei Barrow and Kelly Southern. The two’s passionate jolts and shouts intertwine almost flawlessly and complement each other and the backdrop to great effect.
It’s an album that moves with frighteningly fast pace right from beginning to end, stopping only for pause for thought on two mid-album numbers. Barrow’s guitar lines are the key, hurrying at breakneck velocities through most tracks, with a variety of well-chosen effects making the soundscapes beneath his own yelps seem even more lively and energetic. At times, you almost find yourself wishing that the pace were slightly less relentless, but you’re only really capable of forming such an opinion from outside the mayhem, and it does its level best to hold you in.
Taking into account that the record’s biggest selling point is its furiously teenage speed, it comes as a surprise that when Johnny Foreigner turn down the volume they somehow manage to churn out two of the album’s most accomplished songs. ‘Salt, Peppa and Spindarella’ is no less up-tempo than the two songs that surround it, but the comparatively sparse instrumentation of the first two minutes helps to calm things down slightly, and ensures that the latter part of the song explodes into an anthemic, wordless sing-along which is undoubtably the best hands-in-the-air melody released in 2008. Track 9, DJs Get Doubts, showcases a subtlety which is otherwise absent on the record, and puts the spotlight on the frankly brilliant lyrical work present all over Waited… The first verse closes with the clever ‘I’m happy but I’d hardly call this dancing as such / Like lovers holding hands but mostly losing touch’, and rarely do I remember reading such a succinct illustration of a strangled club scene. First single Sometimes, In The Bullring reminds you what you were listening to before JoFo decided to show off their softer side, and you’re back to the mayhem. It doesn’t stick out; it just rounds everything off brilliantly.
It’s difficult to call anything on this album a stand-out since every single track contains about 3 or 4 intoxicating hooks and there literally isn’t a single piece of filler. The only song which perhaps fails to live up to the rest of the record is the not-so-hidden ‘The Hidden Song At The End Of The Record’, but everything is jam-packed full of tireless anthems, most of which could serve as singles and all of which induce a smile and a desire to dance. What makes Waited Up ‘Til It Was Light such a fantastic listen, however, is that even on its twentieth spin you’ll notice lyrical nuances, quietly executed idiosyncracies and catchy guitar lines you didn’t realise were there before. It took me six listens through to realise that Yes! You Talk Too Fast begins with the genius quip ‘There were no female pirates; your friends are dressed like whores’, and before you have time to contemplate that in any more detail than a smile, you’re grabbed hold of by another hook, or another line, and catapulted back into the energy.
These kids sound like they could go on forever producing the kind of interactive indie-rock that simply never gets boring. Comparisons to Wales’ Los Campesinos! were inevitable, and perhaps they owe more than a nod to LC!’s sound, but JoFo are simply much better at it. Reckless, stream-of-consciousness and permanently intriguing, Waited Up ‘Til It Was Light is the kind of stuff which should be all over the airwaves, but will probably never gain the recognition it deserves. Carefree and thoughtful in the same breath, it fuses your 17-year-old passion and a maturity and self-awareness so often absent in the indie-rock genre into something that you’ll never get out of your head, and probably never take out of your CD player.