Review of Johnny Foreigner's album Grace and the Bigger Picture released through Best Before Records.
It often seems to be the case that as some bands rise in prominence and popularity, they begin to lose some of the flair that launched them on their journey in the first place. Their perspectives become distorted and they can some of their ability to relate to their audience. Luckily, based on the strength of their second album, this won't be the case with Johnny Foreigner.
Grace and the Bigger Picture is an album that leaves you gasping for breath by the end of it. From the very opening, the Birmingham-based trio reveal themselves to be a tightly knit musical force, buzzing with a poetic energy ready to discharge at any given moment. Although the record's 15 tracks are short-lived, they are by no means lacking in musical material and ingenuity; think of each song as having been written in full and then put in a car crusher, not to mention intensified further thanks to Alex Newport's gritty production sensibilities.
Unique in its honesty, the songs mainly concern the members' personal experiences of being in the band, recording and touring. While as a general concept this may not whet the appetite of the masses (I'm sure that's a U2 album we could all do without), Johnny Foreigner have used this to create a moving, deeply personal record. It often feels like the vocal trade-offs between the members of the band stand as more of a dialogue, perhaps even an argument at times.
It's the bipolarity of the music that has the most immediate effect; one moment quietly contained, the next exploding in an aggressive blast of distortion, it quickly becomes very easy to forget that this is the noise of just three people. It takes almost ten minutes of in-your-face outpouring before all this energy finally dissipates in the beautiful 'I'll Choose My Side And Shut Up, Alright'. However, this only serves to make bassist Kelly Southern's softly sung mini-ballad all the more touching, before the trio smash back with renewed energy in the collective bitterness of 'Criminals'.
Above all, it has to be said that the record is brilliantly structured. Rather than just a collection of songs, the use of repeated motifs ensures a cohesive album that culminates in the stunning 'The Coast Was Always Clear' where lyrics and themes from the entire album are all tossed into the mix as the music reaches its eardrum shattering finish. A definite step forward from their debut Waited Up 'til It Was Light, Grace and the Bigger Picture is, in short, an album for Johnny Foreigner to be proud of and a great advertisement for a band that deserves to be recognised. Somehow, they've managed to connect with the heart of human experience just by writing songs specifically about their time together as a band. With end results like this, it's a concept they certainly shouldn't drop just yet.