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"Grace and the Bigger Picture"

Johnny Foreigner – Grace and the Bigger Picture
02 November 2009, 09:59 Written by Alex Wisgard
jofo_gracepackshot“And it starts like...”So begins Johnny Foreigner’s sophomore effort, possibly the most self-aware album of 2009. After spending almost every day of the last eighteen months on some form of tour ”“ heaven knows where they found the time to write, let alone record, the thing. Grace and the Bigger Picture is a rawer beast than Waited Up Til It Was Light, and comes across like the musical equivalent of William Miller’s article on Stillwater in Almost Famous: “a think-piece about a mid-level band grappling with their limitations in the face of the harsh glare of success,” with more references to obscure British towns and “student yew-nee-yuns”. And better tunes.The fifteen songs here rush by with barely any pause for breath, let alone time for the inevitable game of Spot The Self-Reference; the phrase “Arcs across the city” pops up just eighteen seconds in, while there are two sets of songs-with-sequels. ‘Choose Yr Side and Shut Up!’ kicks the album off with aplomb ”“ riffs that are energetic to the point of ADD, stop/start drums and an obligatory half-time outro that’s nothing short of anthemic. Its counterpoint, ‘I’llchoosemysideandshutup, Alright’ is the record’s first (brief) moment of respite, a delicate Kelly-led descriptor of post-gig fatigue (“We walk out with ears still ringing...and flyers for confetti”), which charges headlong into a stomping cavern of distortion. The break doesn’t last long, though, as the track leads perfectly into the insanely catchy single ‘Criminals’, the closest musical cousin to the band’s debut, which “kicks through the rubble with the ghosts of the Astoria”, casting a withering eye on the borderline non-existent London scene.The trouble with much of the album, however, is that the songs just don’t seem developed enough; while there’s a lot that harks back to their earlier sound, you have to work much harder for the songs to bury themselves in your head, and many tracks (‘Kingston Called, They Want Their Lost Youth Back’, for one) have titles that are almost longer (and more memorable) than the tracks themselves. After a while, everything tends to bleed into one, both lyrically and musically ”“ a fact not lost on the band, as they layer almost every chorus on the album on top of each other for the albums well-intentioned, if overreaching, grand finale of ‘The Coast Was Always Clear’.It’s the darker, more experimental moments on the album’s second half that really stick; ‘More Heart, Less Tongue’ (and, later, its spacey instrumental remix ‘More Tongue, Less Heart’) rides on a perpetually-ill-at-ease piano loop, which brilliantly complements the lyric’s account tour-inertia ”“ “So London might as well be Glasgow/Might as well be Tokyo, or any place/We’re almost leaving” ”“ before the fuzz bass kicks in, and you remember who you’re listening to. Likewise, the Dischord Records stylings of ‘Every Cloakroom Ever’ might just be the best thing here ”“ all plucked harmonics and clipped, clicking drums, as well as the album’s most hopeful lyric in the face of toilet venue adversity: “Don’t doubt yr worth.”On the whole, Grace and the Bigger Picture lives up to neither its title nor its predecessor; whilst the band still possess a savvy way with a tune, the barrage of hooks is undermined by the barrage of in-jokes, making the album seem like a much more private document than it should be. Then again, in spite of its unevenness, as a whole, it hangs together surprisingly well, if somewhat overly self-awarely; this is, after all, a second-album whose secret track ends by congratulating someone ”“ perhaps themselves ”“ on having “made the sequel”. Still, a little more grace and a slightly bigger picture next time around wouldn’t go amiss.

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