I once made the mistake of asking Robb Johnson how many songs he’d written. To protect yourselves from a similar embarrassment I’ll tell you now that he doesn’t know. But it’s not just the quantity of his writing – it’s the quality. Whether you’re considering a major, heartfelt work like Ordinary Giants or a quickly knocked out protest about a specific issue, it’s all meat, no filler. So it is with Pandemic Songs. The fourteen tracks were written and recorded within a three-month period with a slimmed down band of Irregulars: Arvin Johnson, John Forrester and Fae Simon in the approved socially distanced manner – but these are no quick knock-outs.
The first three songs are relatively sombre. The opener, ‘Saint Mary’, is a possible explanation of the origin of the pandemic – Mary is a pig – and Robb knows where to place the blame. ‘Monday Afternoon In The Paris House’ recounts his last gig before lockdown and ‘422’ marks the start of lockdown. There are a couple of explanations for the meaning of 422 and you can have fun looking them up. I like two of them.
Robb finally gets to flex his humour muscles with ‘One More Lockdown Day’ but this really isn’t a subject for laughs so ‘5373’ notes the number of dead at the point of writing and the electric guitar is cranked up to angry. ‘89p’ takes the piss out of Johnson and the cod-country of ‘Disinfectant’ does the same for Trump – the forced rhymes are brilliant and Robb almost corpses towards the end. ‘The Highlight Of My Week’ encompasses the gallows humour we’ve all come to know as does the melancholy ‘All The Bells Were Ringing’.
‘Lockdown Jokes & Stories’ gets back to bitter: “How many Daily Mail journalists does it take to make a hero?” asks Robb. Don’t send in your answers on a postcard. ‘Victory In Europe’ includes the words emblazoned on the front cover – remember that you’re expendable, too. ‘The Days We Don’t Forget’, featuring a Spanish guitar intro from Arvin, calls for us to remember what really happened this year. Of course, most of us won’t remember and will vote for these bastards again. Robb is back in Brighton for the first easing of lockdown ‘In Palmeira Square’. And just when you think this virus is all that matters along comes ‘Big Floyd’.
Although the musical spine of Pandemic Songs is relatively simple – just guitars, bass, drums and percussion – Robb adds enough variety and decoration to entertain the listener without getting in the way of the words. What can I say? Another fine album from one of the country’s finest songwriters.
Artist’s website: http://robbjohnson.co.uk
Some Pandemic Songs live:
(You may only watch this if you promise to buy the album.)