Title: Holly Johnson: Blast
Author: David Quantick
Publish date: 22nd April, 1989
Holly Johnson: Blast (MCA LP/Cassette/CD)
A THOUSAND years ago I announced that music would become so self-swallowing, so auto-cannibalistic, that pop would eat itself. Since then a duff Brum rap combo have nicked the phrase and Holly Johnson has released ‘Blast’.
The album is produced by Dan Hartman, involves the guitars of Brian ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ May and Vini ‘The Man Who Really Wrote “Suedehead”’ Reilly, and features immense hi-energy tunes by the ex-vocalist from Frankie Goes To Hollywood. Reader, this is total pop and it is hungry.
Anyone with a mind will have loved ‘Love Train’, a disco anthem of love with its ace lyric ‘You’re a work of art/You’re the Trevi Fountain/You’re a golden heart/You’re the highest mountain’ and will have sussed the acid irony of ‘Americanos’ (a severe sibling to West Side Story’s ‘America’ — ‘Life is all right in America/If you’re all white in America’). If not, why bother with pop?
‘Blast’ is mostly immense and flaming dance pop: it runs solid with Holly Johnson’s sense of irony, for nearly every song compares love with commerce: ‘Deep In Love’ announces both ‘Your love consumes me’ and ‘We’ve all wound up like consumer toys’; there’s the surfacely smug ‘Got It Made’; and there’s ‘Americanos’… ‘Blast’ is pop being nasty.
‘Atomic City’ is a, er, blasting dance furore about having no ozone layer and seeing the air pollution from the power station, and so on. ‘Blast’ mixes such nasties with disco exuberance and so it should be; Holly well knows that people get up and dance and get up and protest.
This would of course be mere complaining rantage if ‘Blast’ was chocka with dullsville melody, but this is not the case. ‘Blast’ is a pretty cool collection of tunes and energy and arrangements. Both Vini Reilly and Brian May forsake their various corners for hilarious rifferama, fake brass sections rampage like Saturday Night Fever was the coolest film in town, and Holly gives it plenty of “Hey yay yay” as if Frankie were back and bothering your brother in public.
You can sense that simple record company desires (a nice rhythm track, tasty synths, a few hip names) have been assimilated and twisted towards Holly’s Big Plan just by the way ‘Atomic City’ sounds like ‘Sun City’; it nicks the chorus so you’re aware of the reference, and so you know it’s going to be a bit more than a nifty dance number.
But it isn’t crassly referential; it’s bouncy and happy like the best SAW, so you’ll want to like it. Holly Johnson is by no means a former lead singer floating about on a major label’s money; he’s a smart pop tactician who can read (there’s a song called ‘Perfume’ for Patrick Suskind buffs) and talk and, above all, write good tunes.
Holly Johnson’s debut album comes out of nowhere, but it’s quite possibly one of the best records of 1989. Pop may indeed have had itself for lunch, but Holly Johnson is wearing the chef’s hat. Enough of metaphor: this is a topnotch groovy LP. (8)