I don’t think the contemporary pop world was ready for Tobias Jesso Jr. when he released Goon early this year. Actually, I still don’t think we know how to deal with his music. Of course, the folk scene has always had its share of confessionals singer-songwriters, singing their hearts out over fingerpicked arpeggios. Yet, Jesso’s main choice of instrument — the piano (acoustic, it must be emphasised) — harkens back to olden days, days which most of his own peers, including myself, never lived through. Attention spans are challenged when all that’s going is softly pounded chords and ballads about emotional agony. Nor is he blessed with an American Idol voice; thin and fragile like a newspaper in the wind, when he hits higher notes you hope he makes it through, all the time.
Jesso’s unquestionably romantic, the crooner with a broken heart, trampled on by L.A. and significant others. On one song he’s asking for ex-lovers to come back, on another he’s confessing that no one else is on his mind. When he opens ‘Without You’ with “Why can’t you just love me?” you feel like buying him a pack of puppies. Yet, it’s not just the clichés: on ‘Can We Still Be Friends’ Jesso also sings about making amends with his male friends after tiffs, not a main choice of theme in the singer-songwriter world. He even sings ‘just pick up the phone, and hope it ain’t the busy tone.’ Heck, not since McCartney-Lennon have there been such open proclamations of brotherly love; the tender type, not the I-got-your-back-bro bravado of hip hop.
Unquestionably however, my favourite song on Goon is ‘Hollywood’, a memoir, farewell letter, and critique of the city all in one. Anchored by slow, deliberate chords, Jesso goes from trying, frying, then dying in Hollywood. However, the bridge is an acoustic collapse of swirling brass and woodwind. Then the piano lines descend into a repeatedly bashed chord, either in frustration or like a death knell. The album very rarely gets louder or messier than this and even then the guitar solo on ‘Crocodile Tears’ is more J.J. Cale than Slash.
So when Tobias Jesso Jr. and his band come to town this Saturday at the Corona Theatre, be prepared to swoon rather than crowdsurf. Keep it hushed too, the man’s spilling his heart out.
Tobias Jesso Jr. plays at the Corona Theatre on October 10. 8:30 p.m. $26