by Johnny Hi-Fi

Track listing: Lovesong On The Radio, Passive Killer, I Tried, Dedicated To Lisa, The Most Beautiful Fan, Changed, You Set Yourself Up, Natalie, So This Is Love, Fading Away, I Don't Mind, Close My Eyes

Discs like 30 are very few and far between. The kind that upon first listen leave you in a state, from start to finish, that can only be summed up with a breathless "Wow."

This collection of songs is many things: A welcome reminder of the truly well-written and emotionally gripping music that has been steamrollered in rock music over the past several years by the likes of Limp Bizkit and Linkin Park; a musical and lyrical catharsis that swells with energy and passion; a lesson in songwriting that encourages the listener to move beyond the tried and true alt rock dynamic of soft, brooding verses and loud, angry choruses.

These songs start with intriguing hooks and melodies and build upon them with thoughtful lyrics, layered harmonies and excellent musicianship to reach sonic crescendos that match the intense feelings they evoke. The opening track, "Lovesong on the Radio," is one example. Like love itself, the song starts out quietly and gradually builds to a fever pitch. It both describes and does what truly good love songs do, leaving you in a state where you'd say to an ex-lover (realizing how much you miss him or her), "Whatever it was/ It was my fault," and fostering a willingness to "...change/ to make you say/ that you want me back again."

Reminiscent in spots of The Bends-era Radiohead, Johnny Hi-Fi still sounds fresh and original. Unlike Radiohead, Johnny Hi-Fi follow up gorgeously plaintive songs like "So This is Love" and "Fading Away" with ebullient rockers like "I Don't Mind."

In a bold move, J-Hi sings two songs in Mandarin. In fact, one has to listen carefully to realize the lyrics are not in English. These songs flip the script on the U.S. listener, so accustomed to seeing footage of international audiences singing along to every word of a beloved American artist's live performance and effortlessly demonstrate music's ability to cross language barriers.

Many of these songs have the potential to be radio or MTV hits but, thankfully, not one is a formulaic, antiseptic "made for radio" single. The guitar hook on "Passive Killer" almost brings to mind a late 80's/ early 90's hard-rock power ballad but the song is anything but a retread of this well-worn genre. Instead, this element craftily adds to the song's ability to dredge up feelings of love and longing that climax with the chorus: "I don't want to be alone/ Catch me if I fall/ I thought you would steal insides of me/ Take away my leash now/ Before I start to lose it all."

30 is an album that can kick you in the chest with its emotional power, make you sing along even when you don't know the words and leave you with a smile on your face. Most of all, it will make you want more, compelling you to hit the repeat button on your player and look forward to what Johnny Hi-Fi have yet to show us.

Posted on 5/28/04