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Album Review: Tobias Jesso Jr – Goon

2 min read

Although some may make comparisons between Tobias Jesso Jr’s debut album, Goon, and the records of that living legend Randy Newman, such a reference point is shallow, and cursory. Sure, both Jesso Jr. and Newman have distinctive, unusual voices; and sure, the melodic hearts of their songs are carried by the combined forces of piano and voice. But here’s what sets them apart: while Newman’s songs are driven by a sarcastic, tongue in cheek humour – irony is the word of the day when it comes to the man –Jesso Jr’s tunes burst with a wide-eyed, unashamed honesty.

Tobias Jesso Jr - GoonThe natural earnestness of Goon is established with Can’t Stop Thinking About You, a track that could almost have been irritatingly blasé if not for the openness of Jesso Jr’s voice and the obvious emotion that fuels the track. Jesso Jr’s heart isn’t just on his sleeve: it’s the visible, powerful force that binds his myriad of talents together.

It’s hard to believe that Jesso Jr. is a relative newcomer to the piano – he started playing it only two years ago. The man knows the exact power of his instrument, and the way his fingers dance across the ivory brings an added weight to tracks like the bittersweet Without You or the relentlessly enjoyable How Could You Babe. Jesso Jr. knows exactly when to allow his instrument to craft dense melodies (as in For You), but he also knows when to rein things right back, a talent best displayed on the heartbreaking, quietly tragic Hollywood.

Jesso Jr. never sets an ironic distance between himself and his tunes. Although Can We Still Be Friends is neck-deep in Beatles-esque nostalgia, not to mention Crocodile Tears’ Fab Four indebted guitar solos, the way the tracks harken back to a well-established pop sound feels like a natural and loving tribute, rather than a wryly delivered artistic choice. Jesso Jr doesn’t layer his sound with musical homages to deliver ‘deep’, ironic messages – he does it because he so obviously loves and respects his influences. He’s not making a point; he’s just emoting in a simple, touching way.

The early popularity of How Could You Babe means it will probably be the best known track on the album, but focusing on that song alone means other great tracks like the ecstatic Leaving LA or the guitar led The Wait will be ignored.

The facts are these: from beginning to end, Goon is a marvel; beautiful without being fragile; upbeat without being saccharine. Jesso Jr’s path to stardom is assured, but more importantly than that, his talents are now impossible to ignore. Five stars? Only because our rating system means I can’t give it more.