Former Boys Like Girls singer Martin Johnson makes his triumphant return to the spotlight with 2018's The Night Game. The last time most people were aware of Johnson was back in the singer's emo-pop heyday when Boys Like Girls scored hits like "The Great Escape" and "Love Drunk." The group's interesting if ill-fated turn toward modern country on 2012's Crazy World marked their end, and sent Johnson down a lucrative road as a songwriter and producer, scoring songs for Jason Derulo, Avril Lavigne, Gavin DeGraw, and others. With The Night Game, he builds upon all of his previous work and reestablishes himself as a charismatic purveyor of his own brand of emotive, uber-catchy contemporary pop. Joining him on the album is Austrian producer François Tetaz, who helped bring Johnson's sophisticated sound to life, even conscripting Wally De Backer (aka Gotye) to sing backing vocals on the anthemic leadoff single, "The Outfield." That song, as with much of album, finds Johnson embracing the kind of crisply attenuated pop/rock that bands like Glass Tiger, Cutting Crew, and perhaps not so coincidentally the Outfield championed in the mid-'80s, marrying glassy synths to sweeping guitar licks and soaring lead vocals. Johnson has matured since his emo days, and brings a warm gravitas to The Night Game, as if he's looking back on his youth with a clear, hard-won perspective. He also has knack for poetic imagery that conjures the magic feeling of a place in time, and puts the listener there in that moment. On "Summerland," he sings "To fire and matches and cigarette lips/Hearts out stranded on styrofoam drifts/Searching for true love with you in the sand." It doesn't hurt that his voice has matured along with his point of view, and his resonant, swaggering croon works to sell his songs about long-lost love ("The Photograph"), dodging personal demons ("Die a Little"), and the pains of growing up ("American Nights"). Elsewhere, he's joined by former Chairlift singer Caroline Polachek on the buoyant, yearning duet "Do You Think About Us?," and evokes the snappy, club-ready grooves of Michael Jackson on "Bad Girls Don't Cry." The Night Game is a pop album for adults, where Johnson illuminates his dusky emotions with bright, stadium-sized lights.
AllMusic Review by Matt Collar