Album Review: John Floreani - 'sin'
John Floreani’s new album is breathtakingly, brutally honest. Introspective and emotive storytelling contained within an eclectic mix of songs; from a wistful and lifting ballad (Echoes) to some hard-hitting country blues (Repent), the album never seems to be just one type of sound and makes every song unique in this short and sweet album.
The first time I listened to John Floreani was through his usual medium of songwriting: that of his band, Trophy Eyes. I was reviewing their latest album, ‘American Dream’, and had no idea what to expect. What hit me was infectious melodies containing incredibly stark messages of the human condition, the contrast of which created some amazing songs. I then backtracked, listening to their older tracks; ‘Chlorine’ and ‘Heaven Sent’ have some particularly poignant and powerful messages, about suicide, and heartbreak, and loss. It was interesting hearing their progressive mellowing in reverse. What struck me was that regardless of how far I went back, with the songs steadily getting closer to their punk-band roots, the lyrics were still stunningly brutal. Even watching them in Fighting Cocks in Kingston — me (in hindsight regrettably) perched on a chair to watch the band and avoid the ferocious mosh pit that broke out — the anger and emotions rolling from both the band and the crowd were tinged with sadness and all the more beautiful for it.
John Floreani’s debut solo album ‘sin’ is no different. A collection of eight songs, and, although I still have my favourites, each one could be the best on any other album. Possibly for the first time in memory, my favourites are actually the singles that preceded the album: each intricately crafted, intensely intimate and insanely good. The first, ‘Echoes’, is an orchestral masterpiece and the first I heard of John Floreani’s solo songs. It’s a heavenly track and one of the few that’s uplifting in tone: about moving house and feeling the echoes in the walls of time spent with loved ones, thinking about and imagining them despite the house being empty. More than anything, though, it’s simply mesmerising as a song and perfect to fall into.
The second single, and first song on this album, makes a very understated start; simple guitar alongside a simple drumbeat under John’s raspy voice. ‘Oh Brother’ slowly builds into a heart-wrenchingly powerful ballad about needing to end a stilted relationship with your brother; ‘I’ve tried everything I know/ but I don’t love you anymore’. The song’s almost regretful in its own message, with a sense of compassion and love shining through despite the pain in the words, but the relief in saying them, of letting him go, is palpable.
The third single is the brutal ‘Before The Devil Knows I’m Dead’. In this, John’s singing is unbridled and incomparable to any of his songs that come before. Much of it might as well be done acapella, with the instruments inconsequentially blending into the background behind his words: ‘where you’re going when you die/ they don’t let the bad folk like me inside’. The track has no answers, fading away into ethereal nothingness, and in my opinion could easily have been the closer to the album, if it wasn’t for what took that slot instead. It shows a broken man, bent from the weight of his past on his shoulders, and is intensely relatable to anyone who’s ever felt guilt or regret — assisted by the harmony of the female vocalist.
All three singles are stunning, but that’s not to say the others don’t deserve a listen; or, indeed, a mention: particularly ‘Repent’ and ‘I Don’t Want To Be Here Either’.
‘Repent’ has a stomping, thumping beat mirroring the slow steps of the song’s protagonist, promising violence and vengeance on anyone who hurts his ‘baby girl’. Its hard-hitting country blue-tinged rock would seem out of place if it wasn’t so damn good.
‘I Don’t Want To Be Here Either’, the closer, is a stark contrast — a Piano ballad interspersed with strings that hits hard. It’s a song about suicide, from the point of view of a helpless friend, watching the phone ring and dreading what will be on the other end. ‘I’ll never stop blaming myself for what you did/ I guess we’re all just one bad day away from a hospital bed’ in particular was heart-wrenchingly beautiful and relatable to anyone who has ever had to watch as someone they love hurts themselves: blaming themselves for being unable to prevent it, seeing themselves as bad people for not being good enough to help.
As an album, it’s stunning. I only wish I’d heard about his solo gig in Camden Assembly in time to have gone: it would have been something special.
Words by James O’Sullivan