Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Freedy Johnston: This Perfect World

He barely had a hit single, and chances are he’ll never gain any more popularity than what he has now. But Freedy Johnston can be proud of more than a handful of recordings in his sparse catalog, and This Perfect World in particular.
His style is very much in the vein of a singer-songwriter, but more adult alternative than folk; a male version of Suzanne Vega, if you will. His songs are a little oblique, with a lot bubbling under the surface that doesn’t emerge until repeated listenings. The majority of his songs have a strong undercurrent of sadness, even the sprightly ones; in fact, sometimes it’s hard to put one’s finger on exactly why they’re sad, which only adds to the ache.
The characters in his songs know more than they tell. One boasts of his “Bad Reputation”, while another is a “Disappointed Man”. Something ungodly is the cause of “Evie’s Tears”, and may or may not return to the scene of “Evie’s Garden” eight tracks later. The narrator of the title track has obviously been carrying lots of baggage for many years, and while he states his case for letting some of it go, it’s clear that for whatever reason, he’s cursed to carry it alone.
But even the songs that aren’t overtly sad sound so damn jaunty. “Can’t Sink This Town”, “Gone Like The Water” and “Across The Avenue”, to name a few, feature toe-tapping hooks and easy harmonies that obscure the sinister underbelly, even after the umpteenth listen.
Freedy Johnston sings in a thin voice with a slight twang, and on This Perfect World he gets stellar support from the likes of guitarist Marc Ribot, bass player Graham Maby and producer Butch Vig on a detour from Nirvana to Garbage. The playing throughout is direct but not at all dated. It has endured as one of the best albums of the ‘90s.

Freedy Johnston This Perfect World (1994)—5

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