Johnny Mathis: I'm Coming Home

Peter Su

Johnny Mathis

I'm Coming Home

Label: Columbia
US Release Date: 2003-07-01
UK Release Date: Available as import

On this reissue of his 1973 album, Johnny Mathis goes home, falls in and out of love, contemplates his own mortality, and ultimately concludes that everything will be all right as long as the new babies are born to carry on and he keeps on being himself. In other words, he grows -- if not old -- middle-aged with grace and verve. As a human being, he's doing fine and even likably sexy in the process.

But listening to and enjoying an album isn't the same as feeling good for Mathis's mental health.

His sense of detail and narrative never quite give the album the soulful, contemplative edge that would make it deeply moving; the album lacks, well, oomph. He loves and he loses but, even when he outlines the specifics (as in "I remember the moment we discovered / That friendship had turned us into lovers"), his songs rarely lose the hazy malleability that keeps romantic mush from becoming the soulful balladry that it aspires to being.

For that reason, there's nothing here that holds up as well as his cover of the Stylistics' "I'm Stone in Love with You". Instead of merely recounting humdrum details about happy middle age, the song compares romantic bliss with the movie star and Wall Street power broker fantasies of the first two verses before concluding: "I'm just a man, an average man / Doing everything the best I can / But if I could, I'd give the world to you". Though the conclusion is consistent with the rest of Mathis's songs, Mathis usually comes right out and declares something similar without much buildup. The Stylistics song, however, allows him to build tension through verses of elaborate fantasy before arriving at the understated conclusion that run through all these songs: for whatever mid-life crisis this album may vaguely hint at, it's actually a fantasy of quiet domestic bliss, mood music for committed lifers. Indeed, as the Stylistics song concludes, it is a fantasy of lasting monogamous love so sweet that it trumps the movie star, Wall Street, and astronaut fantasies of the song's three verses.

Except that the Stylistics' original still beats his. Mathis's singing, grounded and hearty, can't wring out the same ethereal fantasy that the Stylistics' high, tight harmonies could in their version. Mathis's sex appeal, in both his voice and his image, is centered around the fact that he is so grounded and healthy and normal. As sex symbol singers go, Mathis is the opposite of Mick Jagger: not narcissistic, not rakish, not irresponsible, he is the good father of suburban housewife fantasies.

In the tough love affirmation of "Life is a Song Worth Singing", for instance, Mathis sings that "Only you generate the powers / To decide what to do with your life". Wait, you say, didn't my parents say the same thing to me when I graduated from high school? Probably. Except that your parents would have been too embarrassed by its hokiness to conclude by saying, much less singing, "Don't you know you can take the power / To control destiny with your mind?" Especially with a soul band, complete with brass horns, playing in the background. Not Johnny Mathis, though.

Issues and reflections that, in keener hands, could be profound or deeply moving or both often become, in Johnny Mathis's warm, sturdy hands, bland. This is not the sort of album that rewards close listening. From a distance, it's heartening to realize that even entertainers can, at least on record, age with humanity and dignity. Let yourself go, and you might find yourself caught up in the album's humanistic good graces. Get a buzz from the album, and you might go around feeling, even acting, like a nicer person than you really are. Listen to it too closely, though, and the same easy grace of the music and lyrics will start sounding like platitudes. And then you'll find yourself almost wishing that once, just once, Johnny Mathis would really start sweating the Reaper he knows is breathing down his neck, go out, get drunk, and knock up some sweet young thing just to prove that he still can.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

Under the lens of cultural and historical context, as well as understanding the reflective nature of popular culture, it's hard not to read this film as a cautionary tale about the limitations of isolationism.

I recently spoke to a class full of students about Plato's "Allegory of the Cave". Actually, I mentioned Plato's "Allegory of the Cave" by prefacing that I understood the likelihood that no one had read it. Fortunately, two students had, which brought mild temporary relief. In an effort to close the gap of understanding (perhaps more a canyon or uncanny valley) I made the popular quick comparison between Plato's often cited work and the Wachowski siblings' cinema spectacle, The Matrix. What I didn't anticipate in that moment was complete and utter dissociation observable in collective wide-eyed stares. Example by comparison lost. Not a single student in a class of undergraduates had partaken of The Matrix in all its Dystopic future shock and CGI kung fu technobabble philosophy. My muted response in that moment: Whoa!

Keep reading... Show less

The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

'The Art of Confession' Ties Together Threads of Performance

Allen Ginsberg and Robert Lowell at St. Mark's Church in New York City, 23 February 1977

Scholar Christopher Grobe crafts a series of individually satisfying case studies, then shows the strong threads between confessional poetry, performance art, and reality television, with stops along the way.

Tracing a thread from Robert Lowell to reality TV seems like an ominous task, and it is one that Christopher Grobe tackles by laying out several intertwining threads. The history of an idea, like confession, is only linear when we want to create a sensible structure, the "one damn thing after the next" that is the standing critique of creating historical accounts. The organization Grobe employs helps sensemaking.

Keep reading... Show less

Alt-rock heroes the Foo Fighters deliver a three-hour blast of rock power that defies modern norms.

It's a Saturday night in Sacramento and the downtown area around the swank new Golden 1 Center is buzzing as if people are waiting for a spaceship to appear because the alt-rock heroes known as the Foo Fighters are in town. Dave Grohl and his band of merry mates have carried the torch for 20th-century rock 'n' roll here in the next millennium like few others, consistently cranking out one great guitar-driven album after another while building a cross-generational appeal that enables them to keep selling out arenas across America.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.