Spark – Alain Johannes Solo Debut

July 23, 2010

Alain Johannes

Dangerbird Records/Rekords Rekords, 2010

Experimental rock/ Alternative

4 out of 5 stars

The solo debut by Alain Johannes (founder of Eleven, who has also played with Them Crooked Vultures and Queens of the Stone Age) starts as a dynamic, original album filled with musical variety, then settles into a peaceful studio drone. With a strong start, imagine if Anthony Kiedis became the lead singer of Rusted Root. That’s the opening track, “Endless Eyes.” But it’s more complex then the fusion of a soulful funk/grunge singer and an avant-garde arrangement of guitar melodies and snappy percussion. This is a layered, multi-dimensional effort.

As if trying to keep us guessing, the album’s second track “Return to You” is a Black Crowes roots tune whose intermittent female background vocals singing a happy ba-buh-ba makes it sound like a catchy Target commercial. But don’t fret, this feeling will quickly pass.

“Make God Jealous” starts out like Led Zeppelin III. The strumming and finger-picking is right out of “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp” but with a progression that is more Adrian Legg than Jimmy Page. And the deep and dreary vocals sound as if Soundgarden went unplugged.

By the time we get to “Spider,” “The Bleeding Whole” and “Gentle Ghosts” the album begins to settle into a subdued and personal monotone, heavily overdubbed with a Middle Eastern influence. “Ghosts” hints at an alternative universe where Our Lady Peace is an Irish pub band. Listen to it – tell me the song doesn’t sound exactly like that!

With vocals that are as engaging as the instrumentals, especially the guitar playing, Spark is a heartfelt and deeply personal solo debut. The overall feeling is, appropriately, one of loneliness (the album is a tribute to Johannes’ deceased wife and musical partner). But there are drawbacks to recording as a multi-instrumentalist one-man band. The music doesn’t feel spontaneous, but rehearsed and engineered. Not like the work of a band, but of a single man in a studio, paying tribute to the one he loves.

The bottom line: will I listen to Spark again? I won’t delete it from my iPod playlist. It’s good background music, great for a long drive or if you’re just hanging around but not something that will get you excited to wake up. Spark will make some appearances on iPod’s Shuffle setting, and it will always be welcomed.

Spark will be release August 31, 2010 on Dangerbird Records/Rekords Rekords. Visit the artist’s website.

Here’s Alain rocking the strings on YouTube.

Reviewed by Mark McGinty, July 2010