Subscribe to the APA Newsletter
On his first solo album, Johnny Hi-Fi displays an emotional depth and musical range that the broad genre of pop rock can barely contain.
[Johnny Hi-Fi, May 2004]
With his vast aural range, Johnny Hi-Fi could be donned as Johnny Low-High. On his first full-length album, 30, he showcases a variety of songs that go beyond the standard repertoire of the standard pop rock album, which includes mostly dance tunes to an occasional ballad. One can easily visualize sulky, introverted singer/songwriter/producer Johnny Hi-Fi with his well-honed voice, which at one moment can be loud, shrilling, and angsty and at another, delivers delicate tonal inflections. It's a great instrument fpr creating an original musical texture. Containing anything from wailing anthems to catchy, hum-aloud, upbeat tunes about unforgettable girls, 30 is a musical main course peppered with a lot of traditional as well as innovative sounds on the pop-rock spice rack, creating a new flavor all its own.
The range in sounds and moods is best displayed on the first track “Love Song on the Radio.” It starts out as a simple, soft, slow guitar solo which eases into Johnny’s vocals and bittersweet lyrics, vacillating between a sweet croon: “Reminds me of the way it was before,” before shifting to an angsty “I don’t miss you at all.” It is as if one is careening through a single man’s emotional topography, translated into a vast and varied musical landscape. Johnny Hi-Fi’s lyrics are self- reflective and he pours his soul into every song. The fifth track is one of two sung entirely in Chinese, save for an occasional, emphatic “Let’s go!” standing out. Exhibiting his Taiwanese roots, the song is undeniably catchy and with its upbeat tempo and effective guitar chords--which seem to stop-and-go in high-charged spurts--he executes songwriting that flows naturally, yet bears the touch of a skilled and acute talent. Another track that stands out is the track “Natalie,” which reveals that behind Johnny’s sullen exterior can be a lovesick softie. "Natalie" combines rock with a thick, heavy sound that supports Johnny’s sweet-as-honey vocals, illuminating how they have the ability to merge eclectic sounds into a warm, delightful embrace of rock with a blanket of sensitivity.
While the album is filled to the brim with variety and range, one can’t help but wonder how much stronger it would be if the vocals and instrumentals were consistently well balanced. During some songs, it seems as if Johnny’s voice is straining to be heard over the guitar riffs, which appear to be tonally mimicking the melody or the beat of the drums. The result is not as clean as the majority of the album. If the instrumentals had a place equal to the vocals, the overall effect would bring things up several notches. However, most of the album contains well-written tracks that manage to linger in a most delectable way.
Having been self-produced and self-written, 30 is a culmination of over a decade of Johnny Hi-Fi’s dedication to the art of thoughtful, meticulous songwriting. It is a well-made album with not only lots of range but carries a distinctive sound that showcases his talent, as well as his ability to shape a unique sound from different elements. 30 is a worthwhile listen to a gifted, hard-working musician who is bold enough to wear his heart on his sleeve.
Date Posted: 9/16/2004