As of this coming Tuesday, Johnny will have 3 count ’em 3 new discography entries so far this year- 2 as a guitarist and 1 contributing spoken word. In addition, he was also involved in 2 videos and a feature film relating to all 3 audio releases. This makes 2010 a particularly musically productive one for Johnny, and the year isn’t even half over yet. I don’t really feel qualified to offer “reviews” of Johnny’s new recordings, but that doesn’t stop me from wanting to talk about them, anyway! So here’s what Johnny’s been up to, showing his musical side:
Babybird: Ex-Maniac (Johnny is guitarist and music video director for the lead single, Unloveable):
I had never heard of Babybird or Stephen Jones, not even his (apparently massive) 1995 hit single, You’re Gorgeous, until it was announced last September that Johnny was directing a music video for an upcoming single. So I am listening to the March release, Ex-Maniac, as a very new, very casual fan. From the few snippets I’d heard beforehand, I expected this to be a listenable enough album, but I was very surprised at how much I genuinely liked it. It got several listens when I purchased my iTunes copy (available to US customers a few weeks before the official release), and the hard copy I received last week from the Unison Music Store is now on constant replay on my car’s CD changer. The album’s tunes are melodic and often pretty, but the lyrics are dark and cynical, and often pull at the heartstrings. Unloveable is a strong first single, with a large, anthemic sound. Johnny provides a tasteful if somewhat restrained guitar part which suits the song well; still, I wish he’d have had the chance to stand out a little more. For the video, Johnny chose to portray Ambrose Bierce’s short story, An Occurrence At Owl Creek Bridge, also known as a short film that was shown as a Twilight Zone episode in the 60’s. The video is stylistically very beautiful and tells a complete story in just 4 and a half minutes. There is said to be an 8 minute version that may or may not ever be released; let’s hope that it will be.
Ex-Maniac has many other great songs on it, including another candidate for a single, Bastard. Bastard is somewhat of an anti-Unloveable; the lyrics somewhat mirror the latter song, but the infectious pop sound and chorus defy the listener to love him, to touch him. Drug Time’s bass line and harmonies are heavily reminiscent of Lou Reed’s Walk On The Wild Side, while Roadside Girl has some of the same feel but to a lesser extent. Failed Suicide Club, For The Rest Of Our Lives, and Not Good Enough are other standouts for me, and the mariachi horns on On The Backseat Of Your Car help to bring the album to a memorable close. Jones’ voice, especially when he sings low, reminds me a little of Echo And The Bunnymen’s Ian McCulloch, who’s always been a fave of mine. In fact it’s his great, expressive voice that keeps me listening. The album is produced by Bruce Witkin, who also provides a ton of musical backup on multiple instruments, and his partner, Ryan Dorn. Here’s hoping that Witkin and Dorn will produce more great music from Babybird in the future (and that Johnny also might be able to participate, too!)
Shane MacGowan & Friends: I Put A Spell On You (Johnny is a guitarist on the single and in the video):
Now, HERE is Johnny’s chance to show off a little bit, on a wicked guitar solo for this single to benefit the Concern Charity for its relief efforts in Haiti. Shane and a number of singers and musicians, including Nick Cave, Bobby Gillespie, Glen Matlock, Chrissie Hynde, Paloma Faith, Eliza Doolittle, James Walbourne, Mick Jones, Cait O’Riordan, and Carwyn Ellis, participated in a recording session in London, while Johnny recorded his part in LA. The result is a bluesy, edgy take on the Screamin’ Jay Hawkins classic that is much more memorable than the typical generic charity single. The single is available as a digital download and the video can be seen on YouTube. Now, if only Johnny would do more of this type of guitar work with Shane! Rumor has it that Shane is working on some new material, and back in 2004 he had invited Johnny to play on his new album (which never materialized at the time), so who knows? Besides I Put A Spell On You, Johnny previously appeared on Shane’s 1994 album, The Snake, and starred in and directed the video for That Woman’s Got Me Drinking.
When You’re Strange: A Film About The Doors (Johnny narrates the film and contributes spoken word to the soundtrack):
The soundtrack will be released this coming Tuesday, April 6, but is already available for listening via streaming on spinner.com. The soundtrack describes Johnny’s contribution as that of reading Jim Morrison’s poetry, but most of his tracks are very brief- only a few lines here and there. Nevertheless, each few seconds of spoken word tie together The Doors’ classic songs on the disc extremely effectively. Johnny’s voice is lush and reverent and provides just the right tone- he is helping to showcase The Doors without upstaging them. In the film, which will be released theatrically on April 9, I hope that his narration will be equally as effective. From what I have heard so far from the trailer and first look clip, I don’t think I have anything to worry about.