As you have probably heard, Tobias Jesso Jr. has a knack for the classic. You’ve also probably heard that Goon could have been recorded in the 1970’s, at height of piano balladry, when John Lennon and Elton John were knocking out records like nobody’s business. Jesso Jr. draws from this influence, drawing the song back to its barebones basics, with most songs being composed just by piano and possibly strings, with some light guitar interludes interjected into what else would be a sparse album just consisting of Jesso Jr. and his piano like the lone man against the world armed just with an instrument. Goon is like a self-depreciating in-joke considering that most of the time Jesso Jr. is pouring his heart out, he doesn’t have much time for humour. For some, Jesso Jr.’s face on the album cover is about as cheery as the album gets and this is where the fans and the opposition will probably come down to: the simplicity of the piano man, or the po-faced misery that can’t get over his heartache.
‘Can’t Stop Thinking About You’ kicks off the album in piano reminiscent of Elton John’s ‘Rocket Man’ of all things. In fact, it’s almost the same. Jesso Jr. isn’t afraid to put his influences on his sleeve and that’s certainly not a bad thing. At least he’s taking influence from a lost art, something that hasn’t been reproduced successfully years (unless you want to count Tom Odell amongst the success stories of the 21st Century). ‘Hollywood’ comes across as a criticism of the city itself, with Jesso Jr. repeating ‘I think I’m gonna die in Hollywood’, in the persona of an actor coming to the city to earn their living, singing ‘Well I’m a man, I was brought up right / I said my prayers every night’. There is something very appealing to the way Jesso jr. isn’t afraid to be direct and to the point, even if there are a few cringeworthy moments, case in point ‘My baby / she loves to see me cry’, followed by some sniffling and a completely out-of-place guitar solo, which never graces Goon ever again. It’s a moment that’s messy, which can probably be shrugged off due to the consistency of the rest of the album. Still, it’s there.
The acoustic moments are barely there, but when they do come around (at the half-way mark and the last song), it breaks up the balladry for a light interlude. ‘The Wait’ is a breezy little pop song that has lyrics pulled from the sort of shy, sugar-pop from the 60’s, such as ‘But if I change / Could I ask you on a date?’. It sounds wooden when typed up, but when Jesso Jr. sings it, he somehow manages to make it digestible. ‘Tell The Truth’ on the other hand has a very pretty melody and some strings in the background to beef things out a bit, adding a new dimension to what would be Jesso Jr. and a guitar. The strings remind me a lot of a Beatles song, but this can’t be surprising considering Jesso Jr.’s appreciation for all things Lennon. Especially on ‘Can We Still Be Friends’, from Jesso Jr.’s opening vocals, it screams out Lennon and it would be very easy to mistake him for the Beatle himself.
Tobias Jesso Jr. has created a modern retread of the classic piano album and whilst he can be congratulated for his ear and his ability to craft a pretty good pop song, I find it hard to draw the line between Jesso Jr. and his influences. It was practically impossible to listen to Goon without referring back to another artist and this is disconcerting. I want to like Jesso Jr. as his own artist, not a list of influences he’s given me. Maybe in the future he’ll try to create a more personal sound, but as it stands Jesso Jr. has found his niche and he can only be commended for going where no man or woman has been for forty years.