Review Summary: This is the album that the punk history books criminally ignored.
Back in the mid-90s while Green Day and Blink 182 were ensuring that punk would forever be considered a musical cartoon by the general radio-listening public, Johnny X and the Conspiracy were writing one of the would-be elite of my thousand-plus album collection and a should-have-been punk rock masterpiece. This is the album that the punk history books criminally ignored.
Hailing from the New Jersey scene that brought us the likes of The Bouncing Souls, Lifetime, and Sticks & Stones, Johnny X and the Conspiracy unite their quintessential punk influences (think The Clash Dead Kennedys, and Ramones mid-career) with thoughtful yet gritty garage punk songwriting and a pinch of pop sensibility. Their timbres immediately charm the listener, particularly the reverb-laden scrape of the guitar (contrast this with the over-distorted silliness of so many modern punk outfits) and Johnny X’s wispy but tough vocals. The bass parts cut through just enough to be heard for those careful enough to listen for it, and each song falls right into that sweet spot between too long and too short. Their melodic sense is excellent, and they successfully avoid ‘boring interlude syndrome’ without forgetting to take a breath at the right moments. Taken together, these elements make for a unique and precise package. Overall, their sound is hollow, but it works well for them. Similarly, their intensity deceives; listening to Johnny X, one knows that there are far heavier, faster, and more biting selections out there, but one still believes they put up a hell of a fight.
Sleeping Through the End of the World contains three distinct kinds of song. Tracks like “Under a New Hat” and “Suspicion” race hard but don’t leave the listener behind. Of particular interest are the old school rock motifs we find in the verse of “Ruin” and the melodic spotlight thrown on the bassline in “Black Cloud”. The bombastic finale “4th Street, 4 AM” showcases Johnny X at his choral best, half-unrestrained, almost bubbling over with energy. Then there’s the slower and lengthier pieces that sound destined for non-existent good radio programs, namely “Delivered Vacant” and “St. Jude’s Day”. The latter, the only song to ever see the light of day (it appeared on a Bouncing Souls record way back when), I’ve placed on my short but cherished “Songs that make me shake my hips” playlist.
Then, of course, there’s the filler tracks, of which we find three – the only things holding this disc down in 4.5 territory. The problem isn’t so much with the tracks themselves – they sound like unfinished songs rather than straight timewasters – but rather that they disrupt the flow of the album as a whole. “Suspicious Again” is fun nonetheless; it sounds like a song for an empty beer hall, with heavy reverb throughout. I wish they’d put more effort into that one.
Words can only do so much justice to this band. On paper they are seemingly only distinguished by their refusal to fall into any of the expected punk clichés. But I suppose that’s exactly what makes them stand out as something different. They didn’t start any revolutions, and their lyrics don’t indicate much desire to. Still, they put out a fantastic album that has gotten hundreds of spins from me, with no signs of aging. Speculations aside, I urge the reader to listen to just sixty or so seconds of this band’s material and fall in love with Johnny X’s musical mind like I have.