I just don’t know. This EP might be magnificent, mediocre, or appalling. That’s the difficult thing about punk. Empirically speaking, there’s so little between genius and noise that it’s just near impossible to say which it is.
The one thing that’s always separated the greats from the bands I can’t even conjure up while struggling for an example, is romance. Well, it’s the romantic sense of danger… IMPENDING DOOM, as it were. If you’re against the musical establishment, you can make punk rock and sing about how everyone sucks, but you’re forgettable unless you’re primed to self-destruct. You need to be ready to take the whole world out with you at any point, by any means. So, in my interpretation anyway, punk is almost nothing about the music. Real punk is strung out, hepatitis-riddled, and violent, filtered through growling vocals and distorted guitars. Anything else is just posing – yes, I’m looking at you Green Day and anyone who believes it has anything to do with baggy trousers.
I can say for sure, that Sweet Jonny definitely don’t sound like a softcore group of guys, but I’m guessing that was the point of the name from the get-go. Subversion, you know? But how is it? This is a 21st century take on proto-punk, as far as my ears and frequently mixed metaphors are concerned. There’s a lot of energy, and if nothing else, Sweet Jonny have that much going for them. They’re a weird mix of almost everything punk from the 70s with a bit of modern sensibility – think the Stooges, New York Dolls, Sex Pistols, and Danzig-era Misfits thrown into a blender with a Black Strobe-style vocal and the kind of rawness the Arctic Monkeys used to bring to the table.
Before we continue, let’s stop referring this to punk, because in spite of the fact that this obviously is a fundamentally punk release, it’s unfair to expect a band to live up to that in these days where mediocrity is the latest and greatest version of excess.
The Humdrum, to me, sounds like something Ian Drury would have written if he were spliced into the Sex Pistols. You could read into the lyrics and assume that it’s an indictment of the music industry, cranking out similar band after similar band, but inference is inference and I have no inclination or method of proving that. It’s about as tight and organised as anarchy gets, in fairness to them; it’s difficult to keep a recording as clean, but still pack a punch. It doesn’t take much to overproduce this type of thing and I think Sweet Jonny have found that balance.
Carpe Diem isn’t quite as raw as the opener. Some of the energy from the first track is still there, but it’s lacking that frenetic edge that initially caught my attention. There’s a little more in the way of musicality, with a lead line over the chorus that throws me into a glammier zone altogether, like there’s more of a Hanoi Rocks edge to it than pure, by the numbers, anti-Thatcher rebellion.
American Psycho starts with plenty of feedback, half of a Tom Petty riff, and a sigh of relief when the song moves away from it. That sounds unfair, and probably is, because there are only glimpses of similarity to Runnin’ Down a Dream, but I’m just telling you what I hear. Once the vocal kicks in, there’s nothing ‘Heartbreakers’ about it, so don’t read in too far – I just figured I’d mention it. It’s balls to the wall from the get-go. It’s unrelenting, although you’d have to be disappointed if they’d run empty three songs into a four track release.
Mother Knows Best is the single, with the obligatory attached video below. It also happens to be my least favourite track of the four. I’ll throw my hands up and say I have nothing productive to add; no suggestions, no criticisms. It just doesn’t click with me and I’m not in the business of needlessly slating a song, just for shits, giggles and pointless word-counts I’ve already gone way over.
All in all, there are some positives to take from Sweet Jonny’s Softcore EP. It’s different and it’s a breath of life in an ailing genre, something behind which I can always get with relative ease. There is, however, a large, heroin-addicted, alcohol-swilling elephant in the room. It’s nothing new. Lifting more than a few inspirational bits and pieces from the Damned and the Clash, it’s far from original. Even the font for Sweet Jonny’s logo appeared on the cover of Raw Power back in ’73, but that’s so damn obscure, only a savant with no life would even notice, let alone care. All in all, it’s punk in the oldest sense of the word. No skateboards or black abysses. If you’re into that, this is right up your dingy back-alley, no pun intended.
One question remains in the end, however. When does homage become pure imitation? Everyone has a different threshold. Some people will see this as a throwback to when music used to be good; others will see copy-pasting early punk and re-branding it. That’s the overwhelming sense I get from this EP. It’s inspired by a lot of the greats straight out of the London, Detroit, and New York undergrounds, but more than that, it’s uninspiring in that it doesn’t seem to hit the spot quite as well as any of them. It’s decent, but it hasn’t quite blown my stripy Vivienne Westwood socks clean off.