Johnny Foreigner: You Can Do Better (Alcopop! Records)

Impressive fourth album from the Birmingham quartet

Released Mar 10th, 2014 via Alcopop! / By Kathleen Elise
Johnny Foreigner: You Can Do Better (Alcopop! Records) In Johnny Foreigner’s press release for their latest album, front man Alexei Berrow comments, ‘Bands are supposed to mellow as they get older, idk quite what’s gone wrong.’ In the case of JoFo’s You Can Do Better, whatever went wrong worked entirely in their favour. You Can Do Better, the band’s second full-length release on Alcopop! Records, presents Johnny Foreigner in their best form - only louder, brasher, and tighter than in their previous records.

You Can Do Better is pop-punk with an honest edge, and it features the heartrending lyrics juxtaposed by upbeat music that is representative of Johnny Foreigner’s sound. Most songs begin with loud, distorted guitars, and they often feature arpeggiated chords and octaves that may be the influence of guitarist Lewes Herriot, who was recently made a permanent addition to the band. The interplay between guitarist-singer Berrow and bassist-singer Kelly Southern is captivating in every track. Berrow’s voice, though tinny and less smooth, is addictive, and it contrasts beautifully with Southern’s vocals, which are as strong as they are sweet. Berrow exhibits gentler, cleaner vocals as well in ‘To the Death,’ and the singer’s inflections are reminiscent of Gareth Campesinos! of Los Campesinos! in ‘Le Schwing,’ a fitting comparison as both bands successfully manage to enterwine the melancholy with the mischievous in their lyrics and sound.

The first track, ‘Shipping,’ throws you into the record headfirst with a loud intro which calls to mind Blink-182’s ‘I’m Feeling This,’ but the comparison quickly ends there as JoFo take the song in their own direction. The upbeat, dancey disposition continues throughout in songs like ‘The Last Queens of Scotland,’ ‘WiFi Beach,’ and a personal favorite, ‘Le Schwing.’ For all the similarity among the songs in this album, each stands out from the other. Particularly gripping is ‘Riff Glitchard,’ a rightfully oft-quoted track featuring lines like, ‘I might as well be an organ in your body, the damage I do when I do nothing / I might as well be an organ in your body, I’m tied to your senses, I feel when your muscles tense.’ There exists a sense of raw honesty in their other lyrics as well, like those from ‘The Last Queens of Scotland,’ which beg, ‘Please let us get what we want / please let us get what we need.’

The album is not without weaknesses, but they are minor, small in number, and primarily a matter of personal preference. Some muted electronics present at the end of ‘Riff Glitchards’ sound unnecessary amid the lovely simplicity of the guitars, and the static-inflected breakdown of ‘Devastator’ is somewhat underwhelming after such a strong album. These minute issues, though, are easily overpowered by the strength of the vocals, the tight guitar lines, and the controlled frenzy of Junior Elvis Washington’s drumming. Though its last proper track might end weakly, the album ends on a high with hidden track ‘To the Deaf,’ which features whimsical horns as well as softer vocal lines from Berrow and Southern.

Johnny Foreigner is a band with an impressive catalogue, and You Can Do Better is everything a fan could ask for in a new release. Just as importantly, it’s a fitting introductory album for those new to their music. This album proves more than ever that JoFo is a band that deserves more recognition, more listeners, and more fans at their shows. With all the passion that runs through You Can Do Better, you have to believe Berrow when he sings in ‘To the Death,’ ‘It’s been a bad year for death, so here’s making the most of what’s left / my throat might be wrecked, but I don’t think I’ll stop til I’m deaf.’