So the man is back with Blow
Your Mind, (15 June 2018; Chess/UMC) containing 12 new songs, on an
album he never thought he’d live to see.
Ex-Dr Feelgood guitar legend Wilko Johnson returned in 2012 following his ‘terminal’ pancreatic cancer diagnosis by recording Going Back Home with Roger Daltrey, which turned out to be the biggest hit of his career. "Man, there's nothing like being told you're dying to make you feel alive," he said at the time, and you can feel that sense of joyous, slightly reckless, thrill on his latest album.
For Blow Your Mind he returned to Rockfield Studios in Wales with the same producer, Dave Eringa, and two ex–Blockheads in the shape of bass guitarist Norman Watt Roy and drummer Dylan Howe, who count David Gilmour, Paul McCartney and Nick Cave among their previous collaborations. The rhythm duo continue to provide a tight base for Johnson’s unique ‘choppy’ guitar style on his famous red and black Fender Signature Telecaster.
All these elements meld beautifully on the album’s outstanding track, Marijuana. Johnson has gone for a dirty bluesy guitar sound on this first single, and accompanied it with a lot of harmonica, superbly played by Steve Weston. This sets off the dark but at the same time cheery lyrics perfectly. Dark, because Johnson seems to refer directly to his terminal cancer prognosis: “Somewhere out there, in the dark, in the night, there’s a clock ticking out my time […] man, I just sit here thinking this, thinking that, thinking just one last thing and that’s the end of me” and “I’ll just say goodbye, goodbye, and step into this dark outside my door.” On the other hand it is cheerful and full of humour, because Johnson offers some kind of redemption in the refrain of the chorus: “marijuana,” he growls, “you just ease my worried mind”.
Johnson is also in reflective mood on the opening track, Beauty, but this time he is thinking about a long-term romantic relationship. The music is straight rock n roll and serves to both remind listeners of Johnson’s roots and also of his intentions on this record.
The title song, Blow Your Mind, is superbly crafted around Norman Watt Roy and Dylan Howe’s rhythm section and provide another solid base for Johnson’s six string magic. Tell Me One More Thing and That’s The Way I Love You are also strong tracks, the former seemingly referencing heaven while the latter is about an old flame; if you are interested in seeing some classic Johnson guitar playing, watch the live video performance below.
Low Down is another lovely slow blues number with profound sounding lyrics: “ Truths […] fade away like drowned men’s faces […] time flows on, carrying us all down to our deaths, rapid or slow as an old river”; while the following tracks Take It Easy, I Love the Way You Do and Lament return to a more rocky sound, again with some outstanding riffs.
The touching Say Goodbye seems to return to the theme of mortality as Johnson sings: “Lucky river, rolling on .... Now it’s time to say goodbye.” But Johnson is not going to leave his latest album on that note because he closes with Slamming, a joyous instrumental track to really rock out on.
It seems like Johnson has found a new perspective on life and, albeit in a miserable Wilko kind of way, it sounds like he is having a really great time.