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Album of the month : June 2001



Johan (NL) : " Pergola "

( Excelsior )


1993. Hailing from nowhere ( Hoorn, The Netherlands), a young quartet in sailor T-shirts known as VISIONS OF JOHANNA deliver one of the most outstanding debut single of the year. " Swell" is the title of the song : a sumptuous REM-ish ballad that soars and swirls, going crescendo until it takes the listener to unsuspected heights. Almost a decade later, it still makes me thrill like the very first time . A demo-cassette promptly followed with more great tracks (" I want you", "Fly"), and at the time, it was obvious that VISIONS OF JOHANNA were a band of great promise. Then &... Nothing at all. After such a striking debut, it looked like the Dutch foursome had suddenly vanished into thin air.

It's only three years later that JOHAN released their eponymous first full-length album. Although they claimed their name referred to Dutch soccer hero Johan Cruijff, the presence of singer/songwriter Jacco de Greeuw and guitarist Remco Krull left no doubt about it. With a shortened name and a new line-up, VISIONS OF JOHANNA were back to business ! With Everybody Knows as opener - a hit-single if I ever heard one - the album displayed a dazzling collection of power-pop tunes and showed Jacco and pals' ability to mix their stunning melodic sense with a propulsive guitar punch. Ultimately though, it came nowhere near the sheer emotional power that graced VISIONS OF JOHANNA's best tracks.

It took five more years for JOHAN to finally release the faultless album their fans were longing for. In the meantime, many things occured : Jacco de Greeuw went through serious personal crisis and the band even split-up for a while. But in the end, here's " Pergola" and yes, it was well worth every minute waiting. As a starter, Tumble and Fall, the current single, set the tone for JOHAN's new sound : lighter, slower, and even more melodic than it ever was. Perfect. The title track is just as good, a jagged uptempo ditty that sounds like some kind of It's The End Of The World As We Know It on tiptoe. I mean, I guess , a shimmering ballad, offers some gorgeous vocal harmonies while Tomorrow is simply the best pop song ever written since... THE LA's There she goes ?... Once again, there's a hint of REM in Jacco's songwriting and singing, but this time disciples outshine their masters : You'd be at a loss to find a single song as good as this on Stipes and C latest output. Listen to the notes crashing on the amp at the end of the guitar solo : The kind of well found trick that makes all the difference between a good band and a great band. And we're only at track four ! Actually, everything here deserves a five star rating, be it the immediate appeal of Day is done, the harmonic perfection of How does it feel or Jacco's punchy health report on I feel fine. Only the turgid Here closes the album on an unfortunate jarrid note. Not a bad thing in itself : It gives the band a chance to still improve next time !

With " Pergola", JOHAN come suddenly very close to their label mates ( and Excelsior's finest) DARYLL-ANN. Both bands will soon share the same bill in... New-York City. Maybe you should seriously consider the idea of crossing the sea in the next few days...