The dozen tracks on Johnny Action Figure’s Good Eye, on their own Johnny Action Figure label, mark quite a progression from their harder rocking origins. And it is a wonderful new phase, a mature band that blends subtle Beach Boys’ harmonies (as opposed to overblown Beach Boys’ harmonies) into pop music which sounds like jazz/pop artist Gino Vannelli attempting to go into a Lennon/McCartney direction. That’s a roundabout way of saying this is a terrific album in a world where a majority of the music is homogenized, elasticized, compressed, distressed and lacking in communicative skills.
Communicate this group does with marvelous George Harrison-styled guitar lines and a dense production that doesn’t give a damn about the harsh radio/Ipod muzak of the new millennium. This is vintage pop with solid construction from the driving “Phantom Blues” to the lilting “Julianne” – these guys may not have studied the best of Todd Rundgren from the Runt days and Emmit Rhodes solo (as well as his delicious Merry Go Round days), but it sure feels like they have.
Keep in mind that the Canadian group, Ghosts of Science, used to call themselves Johnny Action Figure in the 1990s, so rest assured that this new release is from the Reading, Pennsylvania ensemble. Why I even bring the old moniker up is that the aforementioned change in direction further adds to the confusion for the uninitiated. Good Eye might as well be a CD from an entirely different band than the blokes who made 2004’s self-titled Johnny Action Figure, not that you can’t hear elements of “Bay State”, “Victory” and “Cheating Is Risky Business” from that disc somewhere inside this new release. You can, but the evolution that began on 2006’s Asks The Room to Please Stop Spinning has reached a maturity on this new endeavour. The manic moments from “Asks The Room…” are more direct than the punk attitude of “Dramamine” off of the 2004 platter. The title track takes a John Cale longing look out the window, a pensive call back to the days when John Lennon/Plastic Ono Band was battling All Things Must Pass for pop supremacy in the immediate days following the collapse of The Beatles.
This collection of songs deserves widespread airplay. I’d hate to see them end up like Verbow, Jason Narducy’s band from 2000 which had so much promise. Verbow dismantling was producer Bob Mould’s gain as Narducy played bass on Mould’s 2007 release Circle Of Friends. It would be a shame for a song like “Let Me Guess” to evaporate without recognition…a perfect tune for Brian Wilson’s Spring project from the 60s. That and the other selections on Good Eye have much to offer this world. If anyone wonders why the record industry has imploded, this CD is a perfect example of something Sony, Uni, Warners or EMI should be promoting rather than recycling old hits on new formats. Good Eye by Johnny Action Figure is music worth searching out. It’s very enjoyable and a direction for other artists to pick up and expand upon.