Johnny Payne’s half-eponymous EP Johnny is nostalgic for his own youth and the good old days that were soundtracked by early-to-mid-70s soft rock radio.
Payne begins describing tableaus right away on opener “Lazy Love”. “There’s no ending or beginning to the story that we’re living,” he sings, losing track of time. The song, like the whole EP, is wistful and romantically sentimental. A crisp air befitting autumn surrounds “Lazy Love”. However, it is June in the song, albeit a gray and rainy one. Payne reminisces: “I recall holding on to summers well into the fall, empty trees and margaritas in the mall.” He also idles away his dreary, fanciful days with weed and bed, too – his other lazy loves. With yearning guitar and strings, it’s easy to imagine the passive, detached scenes he describes, of passing cars, fading into rolling credits.
Piano pop gem “Never Stop Learning to Love” is far from the blue-collar rock of the Shilohs, the Vancouver band Payne co-fronts. “Never Stop” is the EP’s most nostalgic track. He opens by singing about sleeping children: “What a thrill to be still when the music was magic.” He continues, wishfully: “Hollywood returns to her glory.”
Sleepy acoustic strummer “Alice on the Other Side” is the only song where Payne looks to the future. He and guest vocalist Alaina Moore, of Tennis, count down the days until they reunite. He remains unhurried about other preoccupations, though: “High on English wine, I will write when I have the lines and the reflection,” he sings. But either he is a walking contradiction, or he has again lost track of time: “Waiting for the train, I’ve arrived too early again for my connection.”
On the purely acoustic “1990”, Payne looks back at his childhood of fishing, watching Looney Toons on Sundays, and celebrating birthdays with roman candles. The song is the lightest fare on the EP.
Maybe all this looking back, and bit of looking ahead, is a sign that Payne has left behind his laziest days. On “Free Again”, he thanks an ambiguous group of people for having him “here,” wherever “here” is. “It took a long time to get where I am, and certainly, this is not my final exam. Maybe I’ll fail, but what do I care?” He also sings, “Happy to be back again. I’ll be on my best behaviour, glad just to be free again.” He isn’t clear about whom he’s talking to, where “here” is, or where he is back to – whether it’s a physical or mental place, or both – but it all sounds positive.
Johnny Payne sounds like a man born in the wrong time period. He is free from hurry but only as free from worry as someone who fixates on getting back to the past can be. As much as he yearns for that golden feeling of old, he can’t bring himself back to it. "I think they got the gist of the feeling. Yes, I do" he sings on “Never Stop Learning to Love”. At the very least, he got the gist of the feeling he’s chasing.
review by Leslie Chu