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Friday, May 23, 2014

Johnny Q Public -- Welcome to Earth

 photo MI0000766594_zpsc8a7d6e6.jpg
7/10 (with "Body Be" and "Preacher's Kid" included), but
8/10 (if they are skipped)

After five years of no new Johnny Q Public output, my first thought during the first twenty seconds of their second and final release, Welcome to Earth, was *sigh* it's good to hear Dan Fritz's voice again. Well, I guess a sigh isn't a thought. Can you think a sigh? Technically, I am not talking out loud while I type this, and I am thinking it, and I thought *sigh*, so that means yes, I can think a *sigh.* Stop bothering me about it already. Anyway, long time between albums, nice to hear Dan Fritz's distinct voice...and this opening track, "Sliver," feels darker and more driving than anything on their debut. It appears that this album is going to take on an identity all its own...and then track two starts. *Sigh* I think, am I on drugs? This is the second track from their first CD. Why is it also the second track on their second CD? This offense is so egregious, my four-year old noticed when I recently re-listened to these two JQP albums to review them. I had to show him the two separate CD cases to prove to him the CD's are not the same. The bummer of it is, when track three, "Already Gone" kicks off with a dark, grinding guitar, it is quite clear it would have perfectly followed "Sliver." The song expertly flows from a quiet spy-guitar sound in the verses to that heavier sound of the intro for the choruses. "Already Gone" is a great exercise in dynamics, and continues the darker sound of the opening track. This is followed by "What Am I," a much brighter song, but one which lyrically and emotionally continues the themes of opposition and conflict of the two opening tracks. Also, it includes the biggest hook of Johnny Q Public's career, and a lively string section that makes the song sound huge. This is followed by "Move" a classic jam more in line with the band's older material soundwise (it was written by JQP's original lineup), but more in line with Welcome to Earth's themes lyrically, as the chorus repeats I won't move, you won't move. This then leads into the most ambitious and epic song Johnny Q Public ever recorded. "Violin Song" kicks off with a dirty, mean-sounding bass line before diving into what Led Zeppelin's "Kashmir" would sound like if it were written and recorded by a modern band at twice the original speed. Very rarely are strings put to use behind a song like this one. "Violin Song" is relentless, features no bridge, leaps from verse, chorus, verse, chorus, to outro in three and a half minutes. It is, in my (sometimes)humble opinion, Johnny Q Public's greatest achievement.

It's clear Dan Fritz is working out some intense personal conflict or emotions with these new songs, and this cohesive feeling is continued...
Just kidding, track seven is another song from the band's first album. I don't know who had "Body Be" and "Preacher's Kid" forced onto Welcome to Earth, but they do not at all fit. They don't blend in, they stick out like two sore thumbs, and they completely destroy Welcome to Earth's flow. I don't know if this was a label executive's decision so the album would sell more copies (which means this would be Toby Mac's fault), if the band was nervous their new material wouldn't connect as well with the old fans and landmarks were needed, or both. Whatever the cause, Welcome to Earth could have been a very unique album, but it gets caught in its tracks by the positioning of these two old tracks that have no business hanging out here. Tracks. I'm not saying "Body Be" and "Preacher's Kid" are bad songs. I love those two songs. They are good friends, but they just don't belong at this party. Thankfully, we live in a modern age where one can easily make an MP3 playlist for this album without including them. I have included that version of this album in the score above.
That's not to say even a re-edited Welcome to Earth would be perfect. Latter track, "Talk Show," goes for a sort of throwback 50's doo-wop chorus, and it doesn't quite pull off the sound. Pen-ultimate track, "Today," though opening with the awesome lines, "I don't like you me/why what did I do to you, or should I say me?" is a little generic. But the tracks around those two, "Hey Johnny," a delightfully weird ode to the band's continued (at that point!) existence, and "Beautiful Face," a lovely love song (eesh, that alliteration was gross), are solid. Album-closing title-track, "Welcome to Earth" fits the weirder, darker vibe of the album, but the real closer, secret track "Feeling Good" is far better. "Feeling Good" is only ambient noise, Fritz's voice, an acoustic guitar, and some electric guitar sound effects. It is an extremely emotional song, and it actually made me cry the first time I heard it (I was having one of those French moments where you should be really happy, but then you just start crying, and the tears aren't tears of joy, but tears of inexplicable sadness. Dang.)
Anyway, I just got interrupted for ten hours, and I lost my train of thought. Welcome to Earth is a darker, more polished work than Johnny Q Public's sunnier, more raw debut. The addition of two songs from their debut completely throws off the tone and flow of the album, but in this modern age, one can make their own version of Welcome to Earth that excludes them. I suggest you do that and also pick up this band's debut, Extra Ordinary, as well, because in this day and age, that's less work than waiting for some new band to actually write and record a decent rock record. Plus, you will get to hear "Body Be" and "Preacher's Kid" in context.

2000 Goatee/Roadrunner Records
1. Sliver 3:13
2.. Body Be 3:48
3. Already Gone 3:48
4. What Am I 3:32
5. Move 4:12
6. Violin Song 3:33
7. P. K. 3:48
8. Hey Johnny 5:25
9. Talk Show 3:31
10. Beautiful Face 4:05
11. Today 2:53
12. Welcome to Earth 9:46


Neal said...

They're not any old albums, but our household has a "better" of Five Iron's Engine of a Million Plots. Heresy, I know, but "Zen and the Art..." "We Own the Skies" and "Battle Dancing Unicorns" just aren't all that great to me. Retreads of old ground that aren't as good as previous attempts and just don't work for us. We skip them and I love the effect.

And we haven't rejiggered the last few songs, but I still feel like they're in the wrong order. :p

Nicholas said...

Man, but the lyrics on "We Own the Skies." So relatable! Fox is not a fan of "Zen and the Art..." and considering he is usually the one I listen to the album with, I skip it (it's definitely my least favorite track, as well, as the lyrics are like out-dated cliff notes, and the chorus melody is cloying). We are fans of The Battle-Dancing Unicorns, though.
How would you jigger it?

Neal said...

I like the lyrics for "We Own the Skies," but I really do not care for the cloying, pop chorus line (my least favorite things about the album are how often these things pop up, and the weird dilution of Roper's voice in most of the songs). Other songs do that pop chorus approach, but not quite so noticeably.

I like Zen and the Art's opening, but then it kind of maunders off and the message of it is pretty meh. Parts of its lyrics almost seem to clash with "We Own the Skies" as well, if you think about it (we have, hehe).

"Battle-Dancing Unicorns" just pales for me compared to "You Can't Handle This," and now that the band is in their 40s (I think), another song about the nerds being cooler than the jocks in high school just feels meh to me. Move on, you've done it before in multiple albums (Suckerpunch is another good one, Jessica reminded me). And I don't want to be a battle-dancing unicorn, especially with glitter. Get thee behind, Twilight, especially since the song is so catchy, even if the lyrics are lame.

Other than skipping those, I'd like the last three songs to be shifted around. Blizzards and Bygones is ending on a dark note and I've Seen the Sun seems an answer to it (as does A Dark and Stormy Night), so shuffling those a bit would be helpful.

Overall, our household feels like the lyrics can be at odds between the songs, depending on what Roper did with the lyrics versus Scott. Not that I don't like doubt or ambiguity about life (I feel that stuff all the time and write about it), but there are some odd contrasts in the songs taken as a whole.

Nicholas said...

To me, "Battle Dancing Unicorns" is a sad follow-up to "You Can't Handle This." In my opinion, the song is painting the Battle Dancing Unicorns to be pathetic twenty and thirty-somethings who don't want to grow up. Basically, the "Unicorns" are struggling to seem cool to the younger folk, thus the line "I'm fighting just to be relevant," to the ones who "have never met a thousandaire" and "are still in high school, but have to acknowledge, that (the song's narrators) are professors at robot spy college." The song is essentially taking on the whole hipster subculture of people that may have been picked on in high school (like the subject of "Suckerpunch"), but never moved on from it, and feel that they have to prove they are cool to people that are still in high school (and everyone else) by living in a fantasy realm. Basically, sacrificing becoming an actual adult to live in the past forever, thus "impaling themselves on the horns." So indeed, you do not want to be a battle-dancing unicorn, which is also the point I believe the song is making.
As for the order of the last two...I dunno, I get what you're saying, and I can see the disparity between Roper and Kerr's lyrics, but the way Reese sings the line "back when I still made you feel something" gets to me in a way I think a final track should. Even though the final line is "if winter lasts forever," something about Reese's performance makes it certain that it won't.