Pourtant, Johnny Mafia est une claque pour le garage français que l’on attendait sortir un nouveau nom. Le voilà, avec Johnny Mafia, la scène va se rappeler que l’on est désormais en très bonne position sur le podium des nations les plus rock’n’roll. Ce groupe rappelle Mozes and The Firstborn autant qu’il nous berce de quelques illusions seventies. Et puis, cet LP est particulièrement fort en ce qu’il ne se prend pas au sérieux. On sort ainsi des productions grandiloquentes, des mélodies dissonnantes et des accords impossible à répéter sur scène. Johnny Mafia a quelque chose de punk en lui, une recherche d’immédiateté qui ne gache rien de nos écoutes répétées.
Au final, Johnny Mafia a ce quelque chose qui n’en fait pas un énième groupe de garage français postiche des influences anglosaxonnes. Sa maitrise mélodique, la voix, la durée des morceaux, ça fonctionne à merveille. Peut être est-ce un peu du sourire de ce mec en bas à gauche (voir plus haut), un air coquin et décalé, comme pour nous dire : vous ne nous avez pas vu venir ? Vous allez nous voir rester. On entre là dans la catégorie des excellents disques de garage, capables de sortir plusieurs titres géniaux sur un seul et même album. La dernière fois que ça arrivait en France, c’était avec Wild Raccoon. Le reste de la scène est averti.
Johnny Mafia is a French band from Sens, about to release their first LP, Michel-Michel Michel. We hadn’t heard from them since December 2014, and all they had to their credit was an EP named EP 5 tracks. Let’s just say that nobody was expecting Johnny Mafia.
Yet, Johnny Mafia is a big shock for French garage rock, from which we were expecting a new big name. Here it is, with Johnny Mafia, the scene will remember that we now hold a very good position on the podium of the most rock’n’roll nations. This band reminds of Mozes and the Firstborn, as much as it deludes ourselves with some seventies illusions. And that LP is especially strong in the way it doesn’t take itself seriously. We take a step away from the histrionic productions, the dissonant melodies and the unreproducible-on-stage chords. Johnny Mafia has something more punk in itself, a search for immediacy that doesn’t spoil our repeated listens.
“Sleeping”, the very first track, is probably the best one. Its mechanical aspect, Parquet Courts-like, ranks hit very high, very quickly. Cut out for the proto-punk lovers, it has the merit of being original, which immediately captivates us into listening to this album, and this way avoids the trap in which a large number of garage albums fall: the appearance of uniformity. “Sleeping” is a track we’ll be listening to for many years and, that’s sad to say, but it should be noted that they are not that abundant (see here). “Bad Michel” is more punk (Pere Ubu, see there). Théo Courtet’s voice finds the place it deserves on a nervous track that recalls the metallic tones of some big names. That’s excellent, garage rock at its best.
“Scarycrow VI” is more predictable, due to its more classic structure. However, the long instrumental part leads to a psychedelic sound, similar to Druggy Pizza. And we couldn’t resist to such a generous fuzz: a pepperoni for table 8, and a Coca-Cola for the drummer. As for “Black Shoes”, it captures what very few garage rock bands dare to do: taking some time to temporize. We find there this attraction that Johnny Mafia has for the ‘90s, and also for a slacker lifestyle that perfectly sticks to its cover. The Black Shoes that accompanied the English rebellions still have some beautiful days ahead, in the French cellars.
“Sometimes 666” is a song that seems to come directly from the Soft Boys’ universe. Let me explain: the first guitar chords are loyal to the jangle pop of the mentioned bands, while Mafia is then looking to hit as hard as it can. Thus, there is a confrontation between two opposed universes: pop on the one hand (see also the chorus), and rock’n’roll on the other hand. Once we are able to admit that “pop rock” doesn’t exist (see on this subject, Lux Interior’s declaration: “Rock’n’roll seperates the squares from the cool people. Pop music doesn’t do that. Pop music is just for everyone’s entertainment, rock’n’roll is something more than that“. “Sometimes 666” is part of a synthesis of which antinomy can only be matched by its live songs reserve. We can already imagine Johnny Mafia string together three songs with this one, without any break, without letting anyone take a breath, very much like The Ramones.
“Smell” is another trash and cheerful track. The great production of this LP is quite noticeable here, as much as the potential of this band, which also knows how to leave room for something else than riffs aplenty. Then comes “Kim Deal”, a tribute to the sweet Pixies leader, above all. While the title of the song has nothing much to do with Boston-style alternative, it has the merit of letting us fantasize about what Kim’s gyrating moves would look like, “she’s cool so cool”. Finally, Mafia concludes with “One Two One Two”, not the most essential song on this LP, but copiously cheddar-flavored.
In the end, Johnny Mafia has this little something that drives them away from being another French garage rock ripping off their Anglo-Saxon influences. Its melodic mastery, the voice, the length of the tracks, it works, wonderfully well. Maybe that’s because of this guy’s smile, on the bottom left (see above), a cheeky and quirky look that seems to tell us “You didn’t see us coming? You’ll see us staying.” This album belongs to the excellent garage rock records, able to bring several genius songs out on a single LP. The last time it happened in France was with Wild Raccoon. The rest of the scene has been warned.