Johnny Foreigner – ‘Mono No Aware’

By Matthew Wilson

It’s rare in this bare bones music scene to come across a band still going strong from the late noughties glut of indie-punk weirdness. The wayside ditches in the age of austerity have claimed many bands that combined indie hooks and punk weirdness, burnt bright, but flickered out a little too soon. So happy birthday, Johnny Foreigner. 10 years together, eh? Marching into the double digits triumphantly, still sounding relatively fresh faced and manic in the world at large.

Johnny Foreigner have always been a bit of an anomaly, not really fitting in any scene or doing things in the typical ‘indie’ way, “where the first year is the only good album and the tenth is the reunion tour playing that album” as singer and guitarist Alexi Berrow puts it. He needn’t worry. On ‘Mono No Aware’, their fifth album, they knock it out of the park. Despite dealing with the same subjects Johnny Foreigner have usually approached – relationships, parties, ghosts -, they’ve reframed it within the context of appreciating our temporary existence. As Berrow sings on introspective opener ‘Mounts Everest’: “My ghosts got spooked, took one look at what was left and blew”. Melancholic ghosts and worrying about the future? It’s a far cry from the old party’s chaos, but it’s refreshingly honest to hear a decade old band talking about their worldview changing.

That’s not to say the album is a downer. For the most part, Mono No Aware is absolutely manic in how it presents itself, with cuts like ‘Undevastator’ and ‘The X and The O’ offering the fast paced, guitar aerobics to be expected from Johnny Foreigner. And drummer Junior Elvis Washington Laidley is exceptional as usual; his frantic, atomically precise drumming on tracks like ‘Into The Veldt’ propelling the band into their chaotically fast comfort zone.

But the introspective admissions of maturity permeating throughout the entire album creates a tone that Johnny Foreigner haven’t really hit on before. Like on lead single, ‘If You Can’t Be Honest, Be Awesome’ which rattles through the majority of its playtime as a pretty standard, upbeat punky slab of indie-pop, complemented by the introspective, instrumental coda. These moments where Johnny Foreigner pause, slow things down and think things through show a band dealing with the anathema to all punk rock – growing up, accepting responsibility and trying to account for it into your life.

So whilst JoFo are still rioutous on the aforementioned ‘The X and the O,’ gang vocals cluttering the mix and background natter in the monitor, the carnage of the chorus catches up with the band. The infectious sing-along of: “your exes, my exes have probably met/your exes, my exes, are promised a debt”, betrays the litter of lovers the band have left behind in their wake. Now, every hook-up has a consequence, every debt will one day be called in. Turns out living in the present whilst everyone around you has been planning for the future can come back to haunt you, which strangely makes one of the most upbeat songs on the album one of the more poignant.

The interplay between music and lyrics also hits hard when the intensely broody driving riffs of ‘Cliffjumper’ are juxtaposed with Berrow’s mumbled declaration that: “this one goes out to all of us that have given up on life”. A bleak admission on the side effects of growing up, and more pathos on an album patchy in melancholia.

Yet, amidst the introspective lyrics that revel in the unease of growing up, Johnny Foreigner have never lost their optimism, which is what makes this album a real blast to listen to. Sure, it may not be carried so hard in their lyrics as it used to be, but the music is still joyous and rapturous, still bounding with effortless energy. And the quieter moments of the album, highlighted on closer ‘Decants The Atlantic,’ look back at all the accomplishments they’ve achieved together with pride, because what else can you do?

On the album’s centrepiece, the incredibly beautiful, anxious and heartfelt ‘Our Lifestyles Incandescent’, Berrow yells: “just cos we don’t party like we used to, doesn’t mean we’re not alive”. The party is still there for Johnny Foreigner; and, if ‘Mono No Aware’ is any indication, it’ll be going on strong for another 10 years.

MATTHEW WILSON

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Dead Pony – ‘IGNORE THIS’

Bayside - ‘THERE ARE WORSE THINGS THAN BEING ALIVE’