Graham Reid | | 1 min read
That Greg Johnson seeded funding for
this album by a pre-order subscription shows he has a loyal audience
in this country – especially as he hasn't lived here for almost a
decade and he's getting close to 10 albums under his own name, not
counting a couple of best of/hits packages.
In part that's because he's an
endearing and often amusing entertainer whose shows are always worth
catching for their often loose direction. But more its a testament to
the strength of his songwriting.
Those gifts haven't deserted him on
Secret Weapon although there is more melancholy evident in
these lyrics: relationships are harder; the rock rebels of yesteryear
are now ghosts; people on the street are damaged or give him the
finger; “there goes another year”; and even if this is the good
life he still wonders if the party might be better in another hotel .
For a man who once titled an album Here
Comes the Caviar you feel maybe the drinks tray is passing him
by. The excellent final track however shows how Johnson can twist a
lyric on a line: No Weapons in the Bar is a world-weary litany
of signs he reads – but the last brings a smile: “Please don't
give drinks to the band”.
The band here – recorded in Johnson's
home studio in LA – features longtime friends Ted Brown (guitar)
and Boh Runga (backing vocals on Admit You've Changed),
guitarist Ben King (on the multi-layered narrative of the terrific
Maori King) and various Stateside
of that melancholy character and the lack of an immediate killer
single, Secret Weapon
doesn't give itself up as easily as previous Johnson albums, but on
repeat-play there are treasures here: Another Rainy Day
is a delightful, string-enhanced piano ballad, there's a good
punch-line on the catchy wishful-thinking Royal Me, and
songs like Faded Book
and the dark 70s pop of The Way I Feel
reward on multiple listenings.
And Johnson still writes a chorus or
melody which hooks like a gaff: Old Revolutions; Indian Summer
with its wheezy harmonica;
the Tex-Mex handclap of Running Water . . .
So, not a
stone-cold winner – but Johnson always a man with something wry to
say, and the melody to deliver it.