WHERE HAS I BEEN SINCE I SAW YOU? I’ve been listening to The Death of John MOuse, by John MOuse (aka J.T. Mouse)- all day and every day for the past three weeks. I’m sort of feeling a little weird now. And that feeling started with the first verse and guitar line of the opening track, 'I Was a Goalkeeper,' where Mouse quite clearly charts a course of reminiscence and reflection with the absence of fondness, and then proceeds to grind this concept across the following ten tracks in the best possible ways. Along the way the waters get pretty choppy. Maybe you should hold onto something.
The combined themes of reckless enthusiasm, quiet rage bordering on indifference, and brutal honesty frame each of the eleven tracks on The Death of John MOuse. I understand these feelings at the conceptual level- but when they’re accompanied the sonic barrage created by an assembled cast of very talented musicians, every emotion on the album is literally amplified- and that works. The highs are very high and the lows are very low- and John Mouse is not afraid to stand up and wreck them.
The Death of John MOuse is marked by intensity. Whether it’s the purely emotional, childlike joy of soccer in the thrashing 'I Was A Goalkeeper' or the nearly spoken word quiet humiliation of 'Robbie Savage,' there does not appear to be an off switch on John Mouse. He’s always on. Full bore. From the breathless sprint down memory lane in 'Goalkeeper,' through the quickstep rant of 'Those Two Blokes from ABBA' and the guitar driven 'Your Funny Little Ways,' John Mouse doesn’t slow down to take a breath until the fourth track, 'That’s Just the Way Our Love is.' By this point you’re fully drawn into the world of John Mouse, where things aren’t always good or bad- they’re just the way they are, but that doesn’t mean it’s not ok to feel uncomfortable about the situation. In 'Your Funny Little Ways' the relationship described does not sound ideal, but under all the bullshit there is always room for forgiveness. Maybe acceptance is a better word for it.
All of the characters and scenes from The Death of John Mouse could be easily drawn from real life. A real life that sometimes seems a little creepy. Or sad. Or both. In the spoken word piece, 'Robbie Savage,' Mouse describes one of the most severe manifestations of a dysfunctional family, one so messed up that they move house without telling their son. Sad and creepy for sure. The musical backdrop for this song consists of an overdriven guitar and a single, repeating, piano line. Add a synth-string section and that’s the sound of detached sadness. Brilliantly performed.
'The Teacher' provides a similar vignette, a strange tale of a care-giver, a patient, and a Johnny Cash CD that disappears in the most bizarre way, driven by a deep kick drum and a throbbing guitar line. The album closer, 'Once up a Time in Ynsmaerdy (Will I have to Queue Again?)' continues the bummer narrative, as Mouse sings about economic ups and downs and how easily and unpredictable they can be. Another sad song, accompanied by the brilliant performances of Philip Pearce (guitar, bass, drums, keyboards, vocals, Faye Davies (keyboards and vocals), Nick Elleray (guitar). Musical influence from his pals Los Campesinos! (Gareth Paisey sings along on Goalkeeper) also add a sparkle that turn Mouse’s darkness on its head. This combination is sonically interesting and engaging (and continues to be so after many listens).
Bummer narrative aside, The Death of John MOuse provides a spectrum of misery set to different soundtracks. And the sound of bitter disappointment turns to gleeful spite and humorous cynicism. 'Happy I am Not' has a quick beat (and the shortest track on the album), a brilliant pop hook chorus, and a checklist of things that should be making him happy, but continually let him down. The song has a live feel and the cheap organ riff gives the song a melodic kick. Sure, John Mouse might seem like a miserable bastard most of the time- but the guy also has sense of humor and can write alt-pop-punk songs rooted in early Who, Dave Edmunds, and/or The Jam (without the matching jumpers or suits). But the sound is updated for the here and now.
The Death of John MOuse is an extremely well arranged on engineered album, a likely result of two of the musicians (Pearce and Davies) performing double duty as mixing and recording engineers. 'The Teacher' is driven by the deep punch of a kick drum, with a wall of fuzz guitar riffing in the background- creating the perfect atmosphere for this spoken word piece. The more upbeat songs, like 'Your Funny Little Ways,' 'That’s Just the Way Our Love Is,' and 'I’m Waiting for Your Girl' are subversively pop friendly.
The pace of the songs ranges from a crawl to a brawl- and in every case there is no sound wasted, and no attempt at lame heroics. The lyrics and music are both honestly stated. Each song, whether the dirge of 'Robbie Savage' or the punk thrash version of the traditional folk song 'llka Moor' (my personal favorite) is well done, but and never over done. 'I’m Waiting for Your Girl' sounds like a radio friendly pop song- but it also sounds like somewhere in the distance, some one is banging on a beer bottle. The guitar solo is short and sonically smart. On other songs, feedback and overdrive are often countered by very clean and precise playing on all levels. It’s sloppy pop hi-fi- which makes it (in spite of the downer lyrical content) a great summer album.
So, when John Mouse isn’t throwing rocks at girl’s windows, or being despised by his children, or being abandoned by his family- he seems to be having a pretty fucking great time. And that’s sort of how life is. You take the hand you’re dealt and you do your best. The Death of John MOuse suggests (and some times screams) maybe we’re all capable of a little more.