|Three Johns: Reviews|
From: Robert Christgau, Christgau's Record Guide: The 80's, New York, Pantheon Books
The Three Johns: Atom Drum Bop (Abstract import '84). I know I have a weakness for demented three-chord rant, but so should you. Don't you wish you knew some Americans who could cop snatches of Jimmie Rodgers and the Golden Gate Singers and "Don't You Start Me Talking" and "The Night Has a Thousand Eyes" without imitating any of them? These are guys who not only consider it their mission to keep rock and roll "The Devil's Music" for as long as the world goes to hell, but who also don't want the world to go to hell. They're my favorite new Brits in years. Their album was manufactured in France. B+ The Three Johns: Brainbox (He's a Brainbox) (Abstract import EP '85). With its DOR beat and football-disco chorale, the title track of their sixth EP since 1983 is a deceptively catchy antiyuppie rallying cry, and all three tunes on the Wespecially "Crazytown," the theme song of a hundred more forgettable bands are worth hearing twice. This is more than can be said of the B fodder on EP number five, Death of a European, soon to be rendered altogether extraneous by the appearance of its title track on their second album. Anarchism in action? Something like that. B+ The Three Johns: Crime Pays . . . Rock and Roll in the Demonocracy: The Singles '82-'86 (Abstract import '86). The Johns' maiden release, 1982's "English White Boy Engineer', exports the U.K. equivalent of Timbuk 3's nuclear science major to South Africa, where he blames the bad stuff on the Afrikaners. Great. But in general this reminds us that a single is what a cult band puts out when it doesn't have enough songs for an album. Some of it is upstanding rant, like "AWOL." Some of it, wouldn't you know, is EP-tested, like "Brainbox" and (that again?) "Death of a European." And some of it is pure B-side, like the beatbox showcase "Two Minute Ape." B+ The Three Johns: The World by Stormn (Abstract import '86). Doomy politics, detached declamations, Leeds connection, they're the Gang of Three, obviously, and if they're not as smart, so be it. No funk crossovers for them, the drums are sure to pick up pattern and accent, but their genius is for basic (and unnostalgic) rock and roll of a punty rarely heard outside punk, if indeed that's where it's located. This time the songs are there, even though the analysis isn't tembly smart either. (That ain't America, lads, it's Capital.) And, considering how much good smarts did the Go4, maybe we should be grateful it's rancor and sarcasm that make them go. A The Three Johns: Live in Chicago (Last Time Round '86). Indies cater to collectors, and collectors will buy any old shit. Yet this verbatim show isn't just specialist product. The impolite patter includes a clarion call for international socialism, and the cover Versions are droll if a tad conceptual - T. Rex as the Eagles, 'Like a Virgin_ There's half a carload of new songs from a writing machine that's already filled two LPs and two EPs since 1985. And if the remakes aren't revelations, most of them are copped from album one, which is now third in line at the checkout counter. B + The Three Johns: The Death of Everything (Caroline '88). Descrying the "gothic" tattoo that ID's a cartoon Jon Langford on the inner sleeve, I was reminded, invidiously, of his fondness for the Sisters of Mercy. The Johns are political jokers, hence not gothic two ways. But there isn't a track here as high-powered (or funny, or politically efficient) as "This Corrosion," and from the sound Adrian Sherwood gets out of "Never and Always," I just know Langford wishes there was. B The Three Johns: Deathrocker Scrapbook (ROIR cassette '88). Sloppy on principle, prolific to the point of automatism, they too have Outtakes - and how. "Fun and games," maybe. "Some great fun and games," not bloody likely. C+
Chuck Edy: Stairway to Hell: The 500 Best Heavy Metal Albums in the Universe, New York, Harmony Books 1995:
No.: 53. THE THREE JOHNS: Atom Drum Bop Englands premier posteverything power trio was pissed about all the right stuff: Jungle imperialism, emotional fascism screwed-over mineworkers, the works. But they were smart enough to be mixed-up enough to know that they really didn't know what the heck was going on. And they realized that no way are our lives gonna be saved by rock 'n' roll, so they flushed the fashion and forewent the pop charts and reveled in hard stuff, tendencies that made them seem like cynics in the Philanthropic Pop Age, though really they were more metapop than antipop. They could sound like Cream with no instrumental training or the Gang of Four with a sense of humor or the Moody Blues with male gonads, but mostly they did for the Stooges what the Stooges did for Bo Diddley, and they did it with a goddamn drum machine. On their least meek (and only indispensable) album, alone and left to rot in a dead-wrong world that doesn't really want them, they find affinity with the wandering cowhands and oppressed true believers of American myth, incorporating sample-like snippets of Hank Williams, Jimmie Rodgers, the Swingin' Medallions, the Golden Gate Quartet, and Bobby Vee, amidst which touchstones these feedback-funkers falsetto, growl, refuse to tune up, and swing like thumpasauri caught in crosstown traffic. These court jesters may fuck around, but at the outset anyway, they didn't fuck around.