❉ The man who fell to Earth. What Johnny Dean did next…
“In a week when Liam Gallagher’s solo debut’s demonstrated just how badly he’s still trapped in the same furrow he’s been ploughing for twenty-five years it’s pleasing to see one of Britpop’s supposed lesser lights drawing on a wider range of influences and developing into something quite unlike either Nuisance or Hay Tiempo!”
The first thing everyone’s going to mention when they talk about Johnny Dean is Menswe@r, the Britpop boy band who did for the glammy Lahndan end of Britpop what Northern Uproar did for the Mancunian dadrock strain. It’s a tad unfair as singles such as Daydreamer, Stardust and Being Brave had far more cheap pop thrills in one guitar lick than the more earnest plodders managed in their whole career.
This isn’t the story of Menswe@r though, it’s what Johnny Dean did next. The only surviving trace of Menswe@r in his new release is the glam ethic: In the Beginning is a heady cocktail mixing glam’s cheap thrills and 80s style sequencers and synthesizers in the manner of Gruff Rhys’s Neon Neon project (with a touch of Hot Chip, particularly vocally). It’s a fascinating blend too, the inclusive, irresistible Glitter band beats pulling against the odd sense of dislocation reminiscent of Eno and Bowie’s collaborations, Japan, and soundtracks such as Blade Runner and Merry Christmas Mr Lawrence.
Perversely, it’s that slightly disconnected sense that convinced me it’s an infinitely more personal record than anything from Dean’s Britpop salad days. Dean has seemingly taken his diagnosis with Asperger’s Syndrome as a personal and artistic inspiration. Not only has it resulted in him playing gigs and campaigning for the National Autistic Society it seems to have given him a way to express himself musically once more. The theme of people failing to connect, turning themselves into machines for living runs right through this EP.
Opener Transatlantic Man deals with an international jet setter who might spend his time in whoever of the UK or US takes his fancy: perhaps a resident of both but not really a citizen of either. So far above the ordinary citizens of either that he’s “so close to God now that you can almost hear him cry.” The jaunty pulse of Human Machine on the other hand feels like a more personal analogy, with Dean singing that he’s ‘learned to reprogram all these things that I feel.’ It might be borrowing Kraftwerk’s man-machine schtick but it’s impossible to read it as anything but a metaphor for his autism.
Shock Rock the Stomp on the other hand feels like what might have happened if Gary Glitter had made it big in the age of synths. There’s an early siren suggestive of Rock N Roll (Part 2) and the trademark Glitter stomp which underlies a lyric from the perspective of troopers geeing themselves up for a ‘shock and awe’ attack. It brings out the almost military underpinning of the likes of the Sweet and Glitter and his band perfectly without ever invoking the more distasteful Glitter legacy. Again, it’s about disconnection, how soldiers have disconnected themselves from our conventional morality in order to do their jobs.
It’s all rounded off with Robo-Rocka-Rella. It’s Kraftwerk meets Grandmaster Flash territory with a chant of ‘we are the robots’ and a robotic take on the harmony section of White Lines over some distinctly late 80s synths before it settles into something halfway between the Terminator and Daft Punk’s Tron 2 soundtracks.
In a week when Liam Gallagher’s solo debut’s demonstrated just how badly he’s still trapped in the same furrow he’s been ploughing for twenty-five years it’s pleasing to see one of Britpop’s supposed lesser lights drawing on a wider range of influences and developing into something quite unlike either Nuisance or Hay Tiempo!
In the Beginning is a promising, thematically coherent solo debut that makes you wish Dean hadn’t gone away for so long. Britpop might be the first line in his biography but after this it’s by no means the most interesting.
❉ In case you missed it, check out our Cult Q & A with Johnny Dean.
❉ The first EP release from Fxxk Explosion, ‘In The Beginning’ is available to download or stream from all major digital music providers. https://www.fxxkexplosion.com/