If the title didn't clue you in, one look at the cover of Freedy
Johnston's new album would let you know what you're in for. It's dusk
and Freedy stands in front of the East River, his head hung low, his
face in shadow.
Bad times have come and Blue Days Black Nights gives voice to
the heartbreak. It's an album that plays variations on a single mood,
in the tradition of such Sinatra classics as In the Wee Small
Hours and No One Cares.
"This is how the story ends/ Face-up on the floor again," begins one
song. Another starts "You left your watch/ It's already stopped."
Johnston catches the small, frozen moments after a lover has walked
out and time starts running backwards: You're stuck in your memories,
rummaging the past for clues to make sense of the present.
"The Farthest Lights" charts the disintegration of an astronomer's
romance: "More distant every day/ I will ask but you won't say/ Do I
watch the sky too much?/ Familiar and so far away." Usually an
elliptical lyricist, here Johnston is surprisingly straightforward,
writing lost-love songs without becoming maudlin.
Blue Days is Johnston's most consistent album since 1992's
extraordinary Can You Fly. There are no weak songs, but there
is such a sameness to the mood, tempo and texture that if you're not
in just the right contemplative frame of mind, you may run out of
patience before the album ends. The music is mostly atmospheric, with
chiming, liquid guitar lines sliding through the songs. It creates an
ideal backdrop for the songs' raw regret. Only occasionally does it
become too slick, conjuring an unfortunate '70s light-jazz groove on
"Changed Your Mind" (RealAudio excerpt).
Blue Days saves its one tearjerker for the end. In "Emily" (RealAudio excerpt),
Johnston sees his lover on the street, but she pretends not to
recognize him. He stops her, asks her what's wrong, but she's
impervious when he pleads, "Look at me baby, it's me." He turns away,
distraught, and ends the album with a devastating and damning "sorry."
If you're feeling anything but blue, Blue Days may leave you nonplussed.
But if you're walking lonely streets, few things will sound better.