Johnny Society

Life Behind the 21st Century Wall

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AllMusic Review by

Clairvoyance was so dazzling and forward-looking that Johnny Society was handed the 2002 Independent Music Award as best band on the basis of the album--two years after its release!--by a panel of judges that included such incomparable, across-the-board musical talents as Tom Waits, Ricky Skaggs, Mitchell Froom, Don Byron, and Wilson Pickett. From that near-masterpiece to this bona fide, unmistakable one. As implausible as it should have been in light of two preceding magnum opuses, the band's fourth outing is yet another brilliant stylistic progression, a sprawling, rapturously textured, endlessly inventive embarrassment of riches that ups the artistic ante yet another couple notches. Life Behind the 21st Century Wall leaps from peak to elevated peak without once touching down in a valley. As always, Johnny Society's songs are a rambunctious pastiche of cluttered arrangements (Trumpets! Wurlitzers! Banjos!) that very much recall latter-day Waits in effect if not in actual sound, an encyclopedic array of pop and rock allusions, and melodic ideas by the pound, like balloons of confetti bulging at the sides, frequently exploding into uninhibited sonic celebrations. As evidence, all you need is "Love"--purposefully or not, the song echoes that all-together-now communal vibe of the Beatles classic, but (sacrilegious as it may be to claim) arguably tops it by skirting that baroque air of '60s sanctimony--or the unrestrained exuberance of "Get off My Farm" with its playful Tin Pan lopsidedness. The music is bursting at the seams with a pillaging strain of joyous glam-rock ("Charity," "Dirty Water"), slow-simmered city blues ("Trust," "I Can't Win"), nods to dub reggae ("Strange Bird," "Mommy in the Flowers"), and alley-funk so deep-grooved and grubby ("Popular Man") you can smell the rubber cooking on the pavement, all of it coalescing into a flawlessly sequenced, wide-lensed cityscape of intense and dizzying highs, thrillingly kinetic and boho romantic at once, with so many unexplored highlights tucked behind each nook that you still haven't heard it properly after a dozen listens. Life is Johnny Society in complete and masterful control of a gargantuan, seemingly limitless talent.

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