Track listing: Set Yourself Up, Passive Killer, The Most Beautiful Fan, Lovesong On The RadioA few years ago Johnny Hi-Fi arrived in New York City, catalog of introspective songs decorated with bright pop hooks in-hand, seemingly destined to become the Radiohead of the boy band generation (read: wildly successful pop group who've managed to retain their integrity). After some experimentation, followed by a massive personal reprioritization (including finding an entire new line-up), Johnny Hi-Fi exorcised some emotional demons by releasing So This Is Love, a collection of sweet pop songs that had weighed on his mind throughout his metamorphosis. Now, three years and a musical clean slate later, Johnny Hi-Fi is back with a new 4-song EP entitled Don't Set Yourself Up.
The sound "J-Hi" displays in this recording has grown from a boy's happy-poppy past into a rock-solid statement of musical purpose: that it all still really is about writing great songs. The quasi-title track "Set Yourself Up" begins with a hint of post-Runaways-Joan Jett crunchy guitar but moves quickly and effortlessly into a melodic chorus that begs for a crowd sing-along. What becomes evident almost immediately is that Johnny Hi-Fi owns an innate ability to craft a rock song to near perfection, following a standard structure but doing so with a precision and quality that most artists cannot grasp. "Passive Killer" follows, setting the CD's songwriting bar even higher. A beautiful song with one of the most melodic hooks of the new millennium, "Passive Killer" appeared on the most recent Richie Zen album that debuted at #3 on the Taiwanese pop charts (thanks, in no small part, to the airplay of the J-Hi-penned song's airplay).
Speaking of the Far East, know any Mandarin? "The Most Beautiful Fan" is the EP's most energetic track, written in Johnny Hi-Fi's native tongue. It doesn't matter that only a handful of English lyrics are decipherable because "TMBF" would rock with lyrics in Martian. Energetic, up, moving, intense or powerful? Yes, all of the above. If it is possible to have a favorite song without knowing what the hell it's about, this could be the one. The melody will play in your head all day because, like the other songs on this disc, it manages to be both catchy and well-written. I just hope I don't offend anyone as I walk around singing "chia chung won chi." If that should happen, tell them "Johnny Hi-Fi made you say it."
The EP concludes with "Lovesong On The Radio." And even though the lead guitar line is eerily reminiscent of Heart's "All I Wanna Do Is Make Love To You," this still falls under the heading of Great Rock Song for its musical and lyrical strength. "LOTR" (not a Tolkien-influenced acronym) is one of those songs of longing and heartbreak that you can identify with right away. Don't pretend you don't have some of those musical bones hidden in your emotional closet because everyone has that one song that makes tears well-up behind the eyes, chests heave with regret and moods become overwhelmed with nostalgia for the wonderful time you had with Mr. or Ms. Former Lover. Yeah, you miss 'em when you shouldn't but we're human and those sorts of emotions come as part of the package. Just know that feelings so vivid are only conjured up by songs as powerful as this one. But I digress…
Don't Set Yourself Up is a super-clean recording, its sonic sterility nearly a fault. It might be a touch too sonically sterile. Throw some dirt and grime on the microphone for the major label production, though, and everything will turn out just fine. And just in case a prospective label may ask "Is there a single on this CD?", allow me to properly re-word their question: "Which single on this CD gets released first?" These songs are there. They're done. They have the hooks, charisma and charm that the elusive A&R guy seeks by rarely finds. So, Mr. Label Man, there are four easy singles right here, ripe for the picking. Go ahead, set yourself up.