Johnny Please – The Muse – Album Review
To get an idea of where the songs, concepts, and ideas driving Johnny Please’s latest record The Muse, I’ll let you hear from the man behind the music through some words lifted direct from his social media: “I made this album from a pretty dark place…Even now that it’s been released, I’m still terrified. You’ll hear (and feel) the phases I go through from the highest highs to the absolute lows.” Figured I’d include that here for y’all to think on – because that’s pretty damn accurate when you listen to this new record. It’s not always an easy task to get deep into the personal thoughts & decide to spill’em out into the world – full salute to artists like Johnny Please that have the cajones to put themselves out there like this…a lot of people out there will relate to his rhythms & rhymes, plus these cuts are killer to listen to.
I mean damn, even the artwork for this record stands out powerfully.
Though I’m not going to profess to be an expert on the modern R&B/Club scene, I still know what sounds good and when an artist has got their head in the game. You can tell that Johnny thrives behind the microphone, right from the opening bars of “Bleed Out” as The Muse begins – LISTEN to the commitment & tone of his voice…while he might wrestle with his emotions & thoughts all over this song & record, it’s clear he’s got an extremely confident grip on the ol’ m-i-c. What I love about this genre or particular style of music that Please is entering into, is that at its best, you can discover some seriously incredible vocalists that not only sound amazing, but know how to use the dynamics of a song to their advantage. Listen to the way that Johnny phrases his lyrics, listen to the way that he uses the bounce of the low-end to spring-off of and how it helps assist in allowing him to add the punch & emphasis to the overall rhythm. Don’t mistake it for anything other than what it IS homies – it’s cleverly written stuff and expertly performed. The wicked low-end bass-infusion you’ll hear on “Bleed Out” makes a massive impact…the music is BEEFY yo! It’s not just about what’s being said though…Johnny writes insightful lyrics that have plenty of imagery & emotion behind them – but again, note the incredible amount of character & charisma in his voice as he bends the words to his will and creates a whole new layer of rhythm in the song as he sings. Impressive beginning, no doubt about it – “Bleed Out” sounds HUGE. Dude actually reminds me a ton of Mike Doughty back from his days in Soul Coughing here too, which is definitely unintentional and way outside of the genre you’d find Johnny in, but still really damn cool too.
“Lone Game” has the man making real use of his vocal skills, combining his rhymes with verifiable hooks being sung out loud as well. Johnny Please…DUDE…I mean…c’mon now, listen to the way this guy makes moves on the microphone will ya? Here’s the thing…stylistic ideas & concepts like you’ll hear on “Lone Game” ONLY work when the star commits – and you’ve gotta be loving that about Johnny’s music here, even only by song two on the record…he’s clearly never going to let his focus drop. Even when the gentle opening of this tune starts, you can just feel the vibe in the air, knowing that Johnny’s going to find a way to level-up and take this cut even further. And he does – exceptionally well in fact – the main hooks of the chorus on “Lone Game” are a memorable highlight on The Muse – and lyrically, he’s got quite a complex cut going on here. While ridin’ solo might not be his number-one choice, this whole cut is a firm reminder that he does this “Lone Game” better than the rest out there…so even if the man is alone for the moment, he’s gonna be just fine. It’s always tough to cheer for a guy when he’s in such a dark place – but the fact is that Please has done an exceptional job of turning his pain into art and music you can genuinely vibe on – like the hooks on “Lone Game” are freakin’ addictive yo! And ultimately, empowering too…if you’ve ever had one of those ‘fuck it’ moments where you’re just gonna lone-wolf it and go out on your own despite the opinion of anyone else, “Lone Game” could definitely serve as your personal anthem. Maybe it’s just me…but I doubt it; I think people will pick up on the inspired thread that sews this cut together…Johnny may be broken, but he’s far from finished fighting…lyrically, “Lone Game” is a solid reminder that no matter what the circumstances are, he can rely on himself.
From the lefts to the rights, front to the back, “Lows” aims to catch every set of ears out there. Finding Johnny in an altruistic moment of playing the role of the sin-eater, he’s ready to take the weight on his shoulders and turn those “Lows” into fuel for his way forward. After a quick intro, he begins surging through this cut with the chorus hooks, Johnny makes a good move in terms of switching it up for us and getting “Lows” started up in high gear. Making stylistic use of his lyrics and surrounded by the thick beat booming around him in the verse, clarity comes through the chorus when the beat dials-back and lets the hook do the work. Single-worthy potential here on this cut for sure…I might find something like “Bleed Out” or “Lone Game” a bit more personal and in-depth when it comes right down to it, but in terms of what the people out there are listening to right now, both “Lows” and the track to follow “Damaged” bring a ton to the game that could take him straight up the charts. So in a way, you can hear that noticeable shift into more accessible terrain by opening up the lyrics a bit more interpretively and the increased vibrancy of the hooks over these next two cuts, but you’ll also notice that in the layout of this record, that flow & transition into the mid-section of The Muse occurs organically & naturally.
Ain’t no doubt that one of the most relevant cuts on the record for the right here & now is “Damaged” – this is the Club-cut supreme and designed to entertain ya & get your body movin.’ Johnny’s got a track strong enough here to create a genuine buzz-word started up amongst the people out there…they’re gonna be shoutin’ about how this is “Damaged” and that is “Damaged” as they’re wild’n’out to this jam. Can’t say I’d blame them if they did…this track amps me up too. You might not think that’s the case for a grizzled greybeard like me, but I’m no different than you – my ears still work perfectly and when someone’s this into the vibe, believe me, I’m ready to go right there with’em. Chances are “Damaged” is gonna be the hit with the majority of listeners out there…again, justifiable choice in many ways – that low-end bass is deadly, but you just can’t take your ears off of the main star of the show here. Johnny is delivering constant verses & hooks that reveal how professional & ready he is for the big time; even when detailing lyrics & imagery about what it’s like to be perceived or feel like “Damaged” goods – the man makes his moves on the mic with resounding confidence you couldn’t possibly miss. Maybe he’s found his strength to move on through music and writing these songs…in any event, the amount of passion and courage he’s put into this record suggest he’s thinking level-headed enough to find his way.
The inclusion of “Hey You (Clip)” tells a story in a real short amount of time. It goes a long way to communicate the pain that Johnny’s been going through…”Hey You (Clip)” is an answering machine message preserved, now playing back like an echo through time of what it was like way back when. Ain’t gonna lie to ya…it’s a bittersweet experience if not altogether sad, even though the clip itself is born from loving moment in time…in the context of this record, it’s a hard pill to swallow. It’s an interesting move to have made that only time will tell if Johnny has chosen wisely on a personal level – maybe right now he’s willing to hear a reminder like this…maybe at times, it’ll be too close to home.
Like…if you somehow weren’t convinced that Johnny Please belongs behind the microphone so far, “Growing Pains” should be the track to change your mind. First off, he’s got himself a seriously captivating chilled-out beat to work with…he’s chosen wisely throughout this entire album in terms of the music he works with, but I felt like this track in particular communicates the heaviness of the thoughts & emotions he’s singing about perhaps more than any other. The ultimate conclusion that “Growing Pains” reaches as well, branches off of the reason that “Hey You (Clip)” appears right before it – there WAS an intense love that thrived at one point in time…and when forced to confront his feelings on whether or not Johnny would do it all over again, the answer is a resounding HELL YES he would. Probably the most personally revealing track on the entire record, Johnny details the pain of life/love, trying to make it work, trying to hang on, and eventually discovering that maybe things are better off the way they’ve become through the split he’s endured. Listening to this whole record leaves you with zero doubt about the inspiration behind these tunes…they’re without question based on his own life experience – and believe me when I say, they come across that way. “Growing Pains” is a highlight example of the emotion & sincerity that Johnny is capable of putting into his words…this would have been a tough one to write considering it leaves him so bare & out in the open…but there’s a strength in being able to get all these feelings out there that leads to the rebuilding – it’s an important step for him. This whole record has been when it comes right down to it…it’s in writing and recording a moment in time that will allow every other moment in his future to exist; you gotta get emotions like this out & into the open, lest you run the risk of self-implosion, or even worse, never getting them out of your system. “Growing Pains” is a moody cut for sure…Johnny sounds defeated throughout this track at times; don’t get me wrong, it’s the energy the words needed to connect, but it’s tough to hear the man so down like this. Of all the cuts on The Muse, “Growing Pains” is the one that will cling hardest to your heartstrings.
“Not The Muse” sums up the heartbreak he’s been feeling and the end results of the conclusion he’s reached…which ultimately, provides the most major twist on the entire record. Where we come into this album wondering what The Muse will be or who it will be, Johnny exits this album on down-notes of cold realization and internal reflection…alone and on his own, forced to rebuild from the rubble. Actually kind of reminds me a bit of like…well I’m old, so I suppose the old-school R&B/Rap combo of P.M. Dawn…like listen to “Not The Muse” by Johnny Please and then go back and bust out a cut like “Paper Doll” or “Set Adrift All Memory Bliss” and you’ll find those similarities. Totally different styles & sounds ultimately, but something about that combination of beats & the way the vocals flow through sections of this tune that definitely remind me of those that have helped pave the way for an artist like Johnny Please to be here today. Love the way the bass actually gets dialed-back here on this final tune and that it STILL makes a huge impact in the rhythm & flow of “Not The Muse” – and honestly, whatever filter or effect is being used on the drums is freakin’ immaculate – love the sound of this final beat. Again, it’s hard to want to celebrate when Johnny’s confronting such pain in the situations he raps or sings about…but you kind of gotta, don’t you? A slow-burning track like “Not The Muse” is so brilliantly focused and feels so damn real…I mean, Johnny’s even going into personal details like how he can’t talk to his ex’s mother anymore…little details that you know come from a place that’s genuine, and still hurt. What can’t be denied, is just how effective this final cut is…how much the music & sad spirit of this song hang in the air while you consider the words, feelings, and emotions that come with it all…Johnny might be down on his luck in the love department, but he’s turned tragedy into triumph with this record.
And he’ll rebuild. Believe it or not, he’ll come back even stronger than he is now…it’s records like The Muse that allow an artist to move on & move forward – and I guarantee that’s exactly what he’ll do. No reason to be terrified as far as I can tell…he’s heartbroken for a minute maybe, but overall, he’s got this.
Find out more about Johnny Please from his page at Instagram here: https://www.instagram.com/johnnyplease