Album Review: The Just Joans - You Might Be Smiling Now...
One of the sad facts about growing older is that you can never stop thinking back on your more youthful days. Be they awkward, exciting, regretful – you’ll always wish there were a way to relive them other than in memory. That’s what The Just Joans have aimed for on their new album You Might Be Smiling Now…, with a collection of songs that look back on their teens and twenties with a wryness that is both cutting and earnest, but all comes straight from the heart.
It all starts with ‘O Caledonia’, which finds David Pope considering his four-year-old niece whom he has said is “as yet, completely oblivious to the pain, misery and heartache that lies in wait just around the corner.” Musically, it’s as playful as a song about childhood should be – even if it’s one full of cynicism – flitting about on trilling keys and jaunty guitars. The album then descends further into the past, David’s sister Katie drowning herself in memories two decades hence, helped out by strums of autoharp as she relives “1996 tears.” It gets much more bitter from there, delving into the realms of their fellow countrymen Arab Strap. They’re scathing as they think back on school rivals and find they still have a grudge with them (‘Johnny Have You Come Lately?’); reminisce about deciding to head deeper into a serious relationship with someone they can’t stand (‘You Make Me Physically Sick (Let’s Start Having Children)’); or recall their indignation that the girl they fancy prefers another (‘Someone Else That You Like More Than Me’).
The album is never bogged down by this ill-will though, in fact it is what makes the album so vibrant and potent, as The Just Joans present their bitter memories in the seemingly incongruous light of merriment and glee, illuminating their songs with their peppy voices and infectiously noodling keyboards. Each song comes packed with an earworm melody that begs to be sung along to; even if it’s an ultimately nihilistic statement like the repeated “it’s just a matter of time until it falls apart,” it rings out as merrily as a Christmas carol.
At times they’re happy to make fun of the naivety of their younger selves, as on ‘I Only Smoke When I Drink’, a sentence we’ve surely all heard or said during our formative years of boozing, as we try to make excuses for our shortcomings. On ‘No Longer Young Enough’ there’s a mixture of embarrassment and jealousy as they look through old photos at the “bad haircuts,” then are out on the town but want to go home because they’re “feeling like someone’s aunty.” There are also some moments of pure innocent beauty, as on ‘Big Blue Moon’, where modulated synths glisten on Katie’s late-night drunken and conflicted confession to the celestial body, which ultimately leads her to question “maybe I’m a lunatic?”
This lovable characterisation comes not only from their lyrics, but from the tenderness in their delivery, making the memories live and breathe. They’ve dredged up their youthful feelings and animated them in both honest and affectionate tones, and it makes You Might Be Smiling Now… a joyous rummage through swathes of bleary nostalgia.
This article was originally published on The 405 - 6th December 2017.