Album review: Hobo Johnson - The Fall Of Hobo Johnson
PUBLISHED: 15:23 25 September 2019 | UPDATED: 15:23 25 September 2019
Sophomore record from the genre-straddling rap artist holds a mirror up to himself to reassure fans they're not alone.
With the same, droll "every cloud…" optimism that helps define the Sacramento-based rapper's output, Hobo Johnson says he hopes this second album "makes everyone feel a little less alone and a little more like they want to stay alive".
It's certainly a worthwhile aspiration in a world increasingly fraught with high-stakes uncertainty and political dogma. These dozen tracks may well tackle the big issues - but only those filling the minds of pre-voting-age adolescents.
Lyrically, Johnson - real name Frank Lopes - is solidly tongue-in-cheek, poking fun at himself and the First World insecurities of many a high school nobody, mixing fatalistic aphorisms about the world with classic teen hang-ups from body image and social standing (Uglykid) through cod-philosophy (Happiness) to love, lust, drink and drugs (February 15th and Sorry, My Dear).
While his rhymes come from a place of sincerity and it's touted as "gutter poetry", we're hardly talking Tom Waits here. He's goofing off with a mic in his hand, dropping in the odd clever couplet but by and large getting by on an irrepressible, youthfully sardonic perspective on life.
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Musically, Johnson's approach to arrangements strikes a fine balance, feeding off and gleefully mashing up elements of hip-hop, rock, jazz and pop, while maintaining a lean, stripped-down feel.
Moonlight, for example, is a fun Franken-pop conglomerate of hip-hop beats, prominent lone string and brass interjections, a capella backing vocals, handclaps, electric guitar and cheerleader chants, as if he's running through some kind of Supermarket Sweep-style checklist.
Music is used more as theatrical accent in You & The Cockroach, which is given over to Johnson's stream-of-consciousness rabbiting about the circle of evolution from amoebas to nuclear self-annihilation and back again, taking pot shots at humanity's major foibles along the way.
He signs off with the nightmarish finger-picked guitar lament I Want A Dog, a warped 21st Century take on the American Dream overload, wishing for a life of constant stimulation, a pop star wife who cures disease, a guitar virtuoso son and a talking pet. It'd be laughably silly but for the grains of truth beneath, decrying a world of unrealistic dreams and perhaps reflecting on his own upbringing, which saw him living in his car after being kicked out by his parents.
This is not built or intended for longevity, perhaps, but his sometimes adventurous pic'n'mix raid of genres work out pretty well on the whole, suggesting a promising musical talent that could reap rewards in years to come.
Rating: 3/5 stars.