There are plenty of reasons not to like JJ72’s debut album, which appeared everywhere else last August but just being released here now, if that’s what you want to do. Hell, start anywhere.
You want to hate them for being young and pretty? Go right ahead. Singer/songwriter/guitarist Mark Greaney and bassist/indie pin-up girl Hillary Woods are both 20, and drummer Fergal Matthews is 21. They’re all really cute and wear a lot of black and seem very intelligent and middle-class and angsty. If this disgusts you, so be it.
If you’re the kind of person who hates derivative bands, then step right up and hate JJ72. They sound like a lot of other groups here, most prominently The Bends-era Radiohead (sweeping self-pitying ballads); Oasis (huge hooky choruses that seem like any of us could have written them); the Zombies (“Not Like You”); mid-period Pixies (“Algeria”); Nirvana’s first album (“Bumble Bee”); Smashing Pumpkins (they admit to stealing the drum track to “Long Way South” straight from “1979”)—the game goes on and on. And although they don’t seem like they’re doing it on purpose, the facts remain what they are.
Pick on anything you want. Wanna make fun of Greaney’s soprano voice? Well, first you’ll have to answer, honestly, that it’s one of the great rock voices of our time, because it is. He can sneer, he can whisper, he can keen like a freakin’ banshee, and he can just stand there and belt it out at pitches that can bend silverware. But his voice is really high. Like Geddy Lee high, especially when he gets excited. So laugh at that if you must.
And there are so many god-awfully horrible lyrics here that dissing them is almost too easy. A lot of these songs are full of art-school wankery: “I saw you in a river / Of stardust and golden spray / Was sent down by the good sun / It covered you and made you shine” (“Undercover Angel”) should suffice to prove my point, but I’ll throw in another howler from “Improv”: “Stumbling through patches of flowered mortality / My daze is special / You’re my goddess to be”. B’jayzus, that’s some icky poetry and for shure.
But damn it all if JJ72 doesn’t rise above its weaknesses nevertheless. Mark Greaney might never appear in the Norton Anthology of Rock Lyrics, but he knows how to write a götterdämmerung of a song. He could be singing a laundry list in the verses for all I care; by the time this man gets to the chorus of a song he’s holding me firmly in the palm of his hand, and I feel very comfortable there. This is a combination of his great voice, ace chord changes, and an absolutely obsessive commitment to every single song he sings. He means every corny and ill-chosen and naïve word he belts out with that great voice, and there is no way to escape his gravitational field. He’s got vocal charisma, does young Mark. And when that charisma meets up with lyrics that actually resonate, watch out: you’ll need a whole box of Kleenex just to get through “Oxygen”.
He’s also got a stomping backing band in Woods and Matthews. They’re not just back there messing around—they’re serious about driving points home. Greaney doesn’t take any guitar solos; he just tries to keep up with his superb band. There’s something about their sound that reminds me of a power-pop Doves, but this is a much younger sound. It’s the sound of naked ambition. It’s the sound of rock and roll.
So laugh all you want at these three adorable little people. They’re ridiculous and silly and unnecessary and they just don’t care. That’s why I love them.