Indie pop/punk outfit Jonny Lives! tries its best to claim a rightful place at the top of the music scene with its sophomore LP, Revolution for Free. Full of catchy hooks, impassioned performances, and sociological/political lyrics, it’s at once empowering and relaxing. However, for the most part, it’s as easy to enjoy in the moment as it is to forget once the moment’s passed.
Founded by New York environmentalist Jonny Dubowsky, Revolution for Free builds upon the “Brit-grit and Lower East Side rock” of their debut, Get Steady. The record is full of momentous melodies, heartfelt harmonies, and inspiring instrumentation which draw upon elements of alt. rock, AM pop, punk, the Pixies, and of course, the vocal prowess of the Beatles and Beach Boys.
As for the message of the album, Dubowsky explains, “I’m talking about the kind of revolution that we had in the 60s…an awakening that we can demand certain things, certain human rights…A quality of life. For me, music has always been the soundtrack to that process. There’s definitely a story across this record of someone waking up to their power to change things for the better.” It’s endearing to know that Dubowsky fuels his music with meaning and emotion (as opposed to so many of his more superficial contemporaries).
Album opener “Parking Lot” is a simple song that instantly recalls the trademark rhythm guitar and vocals of Weezer, and the few tracks that follow, such as the romantic “Still Dreaming” and the grungy “Don’t Throw It Away,” continue the trend. While likable, these tracks don’t really standout as special. Luckily, the middle of the album contains several gems.
“Makes The Difference” begins with a charming piano riff and harmonies clearly influenced by Brian Wilson. Coupled with a catchy verse and chorus, these elements combine to make the track a winner. Similarly, “We Will Not Die Quietly” conveys the album’s most poignant and affective melody, and the way it builds as the track progresses is remarkable. It ends with blocked vocals the recall the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
The album closes with its title track (which blankets its bold statement in radio-friendly hooks) and the most beautiful track on offer, “350 times.” A sorrowful melody complements equally touching piano and strings, and it all serves to introduce a powerful call to action in the chorus. What make this track really stand out are the subtle elements in the production, such as bells and slightly distorted guitar lines. It ends similarly to “We Will Not Die,” but with more glorious layers. Albums such end with a crescendo of some sort (be it emotion, complexity, sounds, or any combination thereof), and this one definitely does.
Overall, Revolution for Free arguably suffers from how it shines in some spots and remains standard in others. Dubowsky and crew have crafted some great pieces here, and while every track is worthwhile, these exceptional songs make the rest feel a bit derivative and ordinary. Still, if you’re a fan of this kind of music and/or message, you’ll find plenty to like.
Check out the video for “If You Wanna Stay” here