Flawed but charming reissues from Kurt’s favourite songwriter
Even if you’ve never heard [a]Daniel Johnston[/a], you’ve heard about him. Maybe you’ve heard he’s a hero, a damaged genius whose ultra-lo-fi songs inspired lo-fi/alternorawk luminaries like [a]Conor Oberst[/a] and [b]Kurt Cobain[/b]. Maybe you’ve heard he’s a freakshow, a tragic case with a mental illness nudged onstage to play half-baked songs for the entertainment of gawpers.
Ignore it all. The only way you’ll really find out if Johnston’s music is for you is by listening, and finding out if these often amateurish, always heartfelt songs about CCasper The Friendly Ghost, [a]The Beatles[/a], and falling in love – always falling in love – touch you, or turn you off. But, as you listen, bear in mind that [a]The Moldy Peaches[/a], [a]Jeffrey Lewis[/a] – hell, anything you might hear on a self-conscious indie flick circa-2009 – owe their existence to these songs.
Johnston rose to notoriety with his cassette album [b]‘Yip/Jump Music’[/b] (8/10), recorded in his brother’s garage in Texas on a $59 boombox, two years before he was diagnosed with manic depression. It’s almost impossibly amateurish, all detuned ukelele and halting organ. But despite – possibly because – of their simple renderings, the songs shine: listen to him sing, “Pretty girls have taken you for a ride/Hurt you deep inside/But you never slowed down” on [b]‘Speeding Motorcycle’[/b] and try not to wilt a little inside.
1985’s [b]‘Continued Story’[/b] (5/10) is slicker and worse for it, mostly consisting of rock songs recorded with El Paso punks The Texas Instruments – but a spare piano take on [a]The Beatles[/a]’ [b]‘I Saw Her Standing There’[/b] and [b]‘Dem Blues’[/b], a hilarious a capella from Johnston’s unfinished ’83 album [b]‘Hi, How Are You’[/b] still rule. Finally, there’s [b]‘Welcome To My World’[/b], (7/10), a 21-track compilation that plucks tracks from across Johnston’s career. Oddly, it feels patchy – oddly, at least, until you realise why. Like all Greatest Hits, it tries to airbrush out the imperfections – and with Daniel Johnston, that was always part of the appeal.
[i]What do you think of the albums? Let us know by posting a comment below[/i]