Jonny Lives! – Revolution For Free – Review

jonnylives200Jonny Lives!

Revolution For Free (Rock ‘N Renew/Long Live Crime)
by Scott Deckman

I’ll say one thing for Jonny Lives!: They can write catchy songs when they try.

On Revolution For Free, Jonny Lives! swims in the Fountains of Wayne in the country of Weezer on planet Cheap Trick. So yes, they play power pop, and on some numbers, they really succeed, while on others – particularly the balledy stuff – they don’t.

One caveat, singer Jonny Dubowsky has a smackable habit of aping Bret Michaels and David Lee Roth at times, really taking liberties with the syllables, stretching them out – and he’s not kidding either, the fucker means it. That style may’ve worked on the Sunset Strip during the ’80s, but not so much on Matthew Sweetian sugarbars.

That harangue aside, opener “Parking Lot” features the kind of chorus that basically made the Fountains of Wayne and Weezer. This is a real power pop song, and could be a bona fide hit if given the chance. “Still Dreaming” is too light in the loafers to be taken seriously, until the tasteful coda.

“It’s Not Your Fault (This Time)” is marred by arrangement troubles and that Michaelsian crap (I can see Dubowsky with Bret on the Rock of Love bus now, the two banging out a hot new tune on Bret’s wizened acoustic, bottles of Coronas nearby for added fortification), but it’s more than redeemed by what might be the best chorus he’s ever written. As you can imagine, this guy’s pretty maddening: Just when you’re ready to take him out back and shoot him, he comes up with something pretty good. Dubowsky has an ear for hooks (both lyrical and musical) most don’t, even making songs you don’t particularly like stick in your head on occasion; that’s impressive in its own right. And, did I mention, on some of these tunes at least, the guitars scream.

“Don’t Throw It Away” takes a swipe from The Partridge Family, while “If You Wanna Stay” is a ’70s sleeper. If fact, there’s a ’70s gleam in the band’s eye. I may be reaching (and frequently do), but check out the cover of KISS Alive! and compare it to Revolution For Free. Coincidence? Probably.

“Your Money Or Your Life” is a cocky popfest, replete with piano and claps (and, I believe, whistling), while “Breaking Down” goes all the way back to the ’60s, jingle-jangling like the Byrds with a Velvet Underground undercurrent to boot. It offers a strange, dynamic, choppy chorus, or pre-chorus: The structure is odd enough to defy convention. “My Favorite Song” reminds one of Joe Jackson.

These songs show Dubowsky can write a pop song without resorting to the treacly, which he does too often on Revolution For Free.

Not everything on here is good. Some of it isn’t. But it’s comforting to know that in 2011, there are still bands out there writing power pop anthems. Sure, it’s not Weezer’s Green Album or, Lord knows, the Fountains of Wayne’s near-perfect first one, and no, Dubowsky’s never going to make anyone forget about Robin Zander anytime soon (but who is? He’s one of rock’s great vocalists), but Revolution For Free has its Jeep-shaking moments where we can all unite in something as mindless and fun as a booming chorus or big hook.

Whether radio (does anyone listen to the radio anymore?) or MTV picks up on it is another matter. Revolution For Free may just be for hardcore pop aficionados and readers of sites like these. We’ll see. But when you crank up “Parking Lot,” it won’t matter a bit.