Prior to its release, Hobo Johnson told NME he really wanted to make sure that every song on his new album sounded different. After listening to ‘The Fall of Hobo Johnson’ it’s fair to say that the California native came through on his promise – with some extreme results.
Thrust into a spin cycle from the off, ‘Typical Story’ plays like a rebellious rap/rock hybrid with punk tendencies. It’s a wild departure from Hobo Johnson’s usually more mellow approach to music making, albeit a welcomed one. Throw in a British accent with a south London twang and it wouldn’t sound out of place on Jamie T’s ‘Panic Prevention’ album. He missed a trick by releasing it as a single: it could have been so much fun watching fans press play on it for the first time and wondering what the fuck was going on.
Then there’s ‘You & The Cockroach’. Taking a leaf out of Eric Cantona’s philosophical playbook (remember his “When the seagulls follow the trawler” speech?), Johnson offers a tale of a bizarre place where – spoiler alert! – fish grow arms and legs and cockroaches don lab coats and essentially run the world. More an extended TED Talk than a musical (something that is coming, according to Johnson), it’s utterly ridiculous but also hilariously captivating.
‘February 15th’, a break-up song, is a short-but-sweet standout on which he admits, “I’m going to be alone forever but I’m getting used to the thought / And in a couple years I’ll pay to make it stop.” Recorded in a live setting, the track oozes relatability in the same way that his now-famous Tiny Desk performance did. The same resonance is also felt on ‘Moonlight’ and the alluringly sombre ‘Happiness’, which features some deeply retrospective storytelling.
As far as titles go, ’Ode to Justin Bieber’ is like low hanging fruit for someone who likes to skim an album. However, once you hit play, you soon realise that although the track’s overall idea is a good one, its execution leaves a lot to be desired. While we’ve come to expect left-field creativity from Johnson, this one feels way too busy. ‘Sorry, My Dear’, meanwhile, swings too far in the other direction. The weird distortion used on Johnson’s vocals not only contorts his deepest inner thoughts – which actually prove unrecognisable during the deafening chorus – it drowns out an otherwise beautifully woeful backdrop.
Throughout the album’s 12 tracks, there are a variety of potentially unintentional nods to Johnson’s influences. If it’s not Chance the Rapper on the instrumentally rich ‘All in my Head’, or G-Eazy on ‘Subaru Crosstrek XV’; a comical celebration of modest success, then it’s a combination of Macklemore and Hoodie Allen on both the piano-led ‘Move Awayer’ and album closer ‘I Want a Dog’.
As Hobo Johnson follows in the footsteps of Ed Sheeran, Lizzo and Lewis Capaldi as a newly appointed member of the proudly unconventional pop stars club, his latest body work is a worthy representation of who he is: a talented and undeniably funny underdog with an addictive persona.
- Release date: September 13
- Record label: Reprise Records