Review Summary: My sentiments exactly.
If you’ve never heard of Johnny Foreigner before and consider yourself a fan of DIY indie rock/punk, you’ve been missing out. This trio (now quartet) has been offering some very high-quality contributions for several years now, complete with a dual male & female vocalist attack, tight drumming, and offering a unique blend of different genres (a dash of noise, a touch of experimental, with a strong pop current underneath it all). But despite their strong history and releasing string of quality EPs since their third full-length Johnny Foreigner vs. Everything
, the band seems to have hit a rough patch with their fourth full-length, You Can Do Better
Despite the album’s overall shortcomings, the band starts off with a bang. The first track on the album, “Shipping”, comes out swinging, with a speed relatively unseen from the band’s back catalogue, and it’s everything the band does right: blazing guitars, tasteful noise, a strong and catchy male/female hybrid vocal attack backed by a strong drumming backbone. “I'll stop shipping you when you stop shipping me” stands out as the catchy hook amid all the chaos before the track comes to crashing halt. “Le Sigh” continues the enthusiasm and new-found fast tempos, complete with back-and-forth vocals, while “In Capitols” is more reminiscent of material found on their previous full-length, including a progression into an extended, slower, almost somber section, which contrasts very nicely from the fast pace.
But after the few opening tracks, however, the wheels really start to fall off. Whether it’s trying too hard to come up with something unique and different, or just a lack of good ideas all around, You Can Do Better
is very spotty from the midpoint and onward.
The problems found with You Can Do Better
is that there are just too many points in songs where conventional musical ideas and concepts are turned on their head in favour of trying something different, and not only does it not work, but it turns into a frustrating listen more often than not. “The Last Queens of Scotland” is a fine example, where the track spends forty-five seconds of the song’s later half building up with crazy-fast drum roll and building guitars, and while the listener can only expect an eruption after the build, the song peters off into nothing. “Riff Glitchard” spends four minutes creating a beautiful, soothing aesthetic, only to have the band end with an unexpected squeal of noisy guitar riffs. “To The Death”, a song about a friend’s suicide, and closer “Devastator” can’t decide whether to speed up or slow down, thus spoiling and momentum the songs hoped to create: just when you think the song is about to get going, there are literally periods of dead silence. While the songs have some merit with enjoyable sections in short bursts, the overall execution is so unsatisfyingly unconventional that it winds up being a baffling listen more often than not.
For a band that’s released very good music for a very long time, You Can Do Better
is a true head scratcher. Slayer wouldn’t end “Angel Of Death” with 30 seconds of mournful crooning; Phil Collin’s “In The Air Tonight” wouldn’t go back to simplicity after the crashing drum transition midway through the song. The issues here aren’t of style or substance, but that of execution, and I believe the band can take heed from their own album title and actually rebound from this rather easily. Whether it’s a lack of ideas or trying too hard to be different, You Can Do Better
shows off a good band with a sloppy mission statement, and hopefully this is just a sore spot in the band’s otherwise stellar catalogue.