Posted on June 9th, 2015 (11:00 am) by N. Neal Paradise

Did you know that Sweden is the world’s largest exporter of pop music in relation to their GDP? That means that Sweden is the most serious country in the world about filling every corner of this planet with pop music, even more serious than the U.S. or England. But what about the U.S.? We have such pop luminaries as Nicki Minaj and Ke$ha and Kanye West and Pitbull and… actually, never mind.

Sweden has Jay-Jay Johanson, and he seems to have a mastery over everything that completely eludes the American pop music market. While we’re obsessed with how much stuff we have and how expensive it is (or isn’t, as Macklemore shows) and how stupid our hoes are, Jay-Jay is busy singing about love, connection, distance, drugs, new experiences and even bisexuality. Kinda makes us look foolish, huh?

Opium is his 10th album, and his discography has seen a shift from trip-hop to a more electroclash sound, all the while retaining a soft, lilting, ‘20s-style voice that is at once dreamy and hopeless. Sometimes (particularly on opener “Drowsy/Too Young to Say Good Night”) he sounds like a Vaudeville stage performer with a painted-on Chaplin mustache. But elsewhere on Opium, there is a creepy malaise permeating the underbelly of the songs, adding a sense of foreboding to the pop sheen. Jay-Jay seems to ignore this, though, and some of the creepiest tracks are ones in which his lovesick puppy persona are at its strongest, like “Be Yourself” or the directly-titled “I Love Him So.”

What makes Opium hang together, however, is first single “Moonshine,” which Jay-Jay had previewed with its own EP a few months back. Musically, it’s the boldest statement on the album, and its shrugging attitude about infatuation and decadence give extra weight to the rest of the album’s somewhat lighter tone.

The only problem with Opium, and a lingering problem that Jay-Jay has been having throughout his career, is a tendency to lull his listeners into complacency. It’s very clear that Jay-Jay is capable of bringing up vast issues and complicated ideas, but that is only hinted at on Opium. Rather than pull us into territories that we didn’t know existed, he’s more like Galadriel with her mirror – we see strange things, look up to Jay-Jay for explanation, and he simply shrugs and murmurs “I dunno.” He doesn’t answer, so we have learned to not even ask.

But what’s better? Sweden’s somewhat obtuse presentation of topics that deserve more weight than artists like Jay-Jay Johanson give them, or America’s ignorance of anything past selfies, dollar bills and brushing our teeth with a bottle of Jack? It’s a question for the ages.

Track List:

  1. Drowsy/Too Young to Say Good Night
  2. Moonshine
  3. Be Yourself
  4. I Love Him So
  5. NDE
  6. I Don't Know Much About Loving
  7. Scarecrow
  8. I Can Count On You
  9. Alone Too Long
  10. Harakiri
  11. Celebrate the Wonders
Jay-Jay Johanson - Opium
Purchase at: Amazon | eMusic

Our Rating

77 / 100
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