Blast - Holly Johnson

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Blast - Holly Johnson

1 CD(s) - Dance - Label: MCA, Island - Distributor: Pickwick, Universal Music - Released: 16/11/2009 - 5011781604221

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Review of "Blast - Holly Johnson"

published 06/10/2011 | 80smusicreviewer
Member since : 07/05/2011
Reviews : 146
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About me :
Many thanks for all rates, I will always return but may need a week to do so.
Excellent
Pro Excellent and unique vocal, memorable, well produced
Cons Has ended up a forgotten number one
exceptional
Originality
Quality and consistency of tracks
Cover / Inlay Design and Content
Value for Money
Lyrics

"Blast"

Holly Johnson - Love Train single cover

Holly Johnson - Love Train single cover

Introduction


In 1989, Holly Johnson had released his debut solo album, titled Blast. Originally lead vocalist for Frankie Goes To Hollywood, Johnson was dissatisfied in the musical direction of the band’s second and last 1987 album Liverpool. As a result, he decided it was best to leave the band, wishing to perform more dance/pop-orientated material rather than the more rock-based sound that Liverpool had. However, for Johnson it wasn’t as easy as simply leaving the band and starting a solo career. The band were still contracted to ZTT Records, owned by English producer Trevor Horn. A resulting two year legal battle formed, with Johnson wishing to break from ZTT Records and find a new record label. By 1989, the case was finally settled in Johnson’s favour, stating the ZTT contract as unfair and an unreasonable restraint of trade. Aside from two pre-fame singles, 1979’s Yankee Rose and 1980’s Hobo Joe, it was Blast that became Johnson’s true solo debut.

Tracks


The album opens with Atomic City, written by Johnson and Dan Hartman, also produced by Hartman. This particular track lasts just over six whole minutes, nicely starting the album off. The song opens with various electronic sound effects before Johnson’s vocal performs the chorus over electronic brass instruments, guitar licks and steady percussion. This section nicely fades into the song’s main melody which features some strong electronic brass, synthesized bass and the drumbeat. The song’s first verse is rather long, nicely giving Johnson the chance to show his great vocal, mainly carried by the synthesized bass and the drumbeat, with brass joining frequently. The chorus follows where Johnson performs an excellent vocal, backed by female backing vocal, powerful guitar licks, brass and strong percussion. This chorus features new lyric in the middle, before heading back into the final part of the chorus. For the next verse, Johnson performs vocal with the female backing vocal over organ drones, synthesized bass and percussion. Immediately after, an excellent and fitting guitar solo is performed, with a hint of female backing vocal. One section of the verse is then performed, before synthesized bass and percussion solely carries lead and backing vocal for a new vocal section. The organ section returns once again, followed by another new vocal section which features distant vocal from Johnson, carried by lead guitar. After another verse, an atmospheric solo section is performed which features a nice mix of synthesizer drones, synthesizer and percussion. Following on, the brass and synthesized bass returns, followed by the final chorus section. The song comes to an end with drums closing all instruments except one synthesizer drone which connects to the next track. Lyrically, the song refers to pollution and technology, referring to a certain place called ‘Atomic City’. The song’s lyric has an overall sarcastic feel, working well with the instrumentation. Overall, a great opener and a memorable song, with excellent lead vocal. “We've got no ozone, we got radiation, see the air pollution from the power station. There's a party going on in Atomic City, some are dancing but none are sitting pretty…”

Heaven's Here flows straight from the previous track, written by Johnson and produced by Stephen Hague. Described as a favourite by Johnson himself, the song opens with a strong and commercial friendly synthesizer melody, backed by synthesized bass and percussion. The song’s verses feature some excellent lead vocal from Johnson, backed by the same instrumentation. For the pre-chorus, Johnson’s vocal is nicely performed whilst an extra synthesizer layer builds the song up to the chorus. A strong chorus is performed, featuring excellent lead vocal, female backing vocal, synthesizer, synthesized bass and percussion. After the first chorus, a short instrumental section is performed, highlighting the song’s melody. Following the second chorus, two synthesizer layers take over the melody whilst Johnson performs two lines during this section. The next pre-chorus adds extra female backing vocal whilst the extra synthesizer layer comes in later than usual, allowing the rhythm section to stand out at the beginning. The song comes to an end with the final chorus, followed by Johnson repeating the song’s title along with the only other line from the chorus, all over the song’s main melody. Including background vocal from both Johnson and the female backing vocalists, the song nicely fades out with this section. Lyrically, the song refers to love and living without any negatives, creating heaven yourself. Overall, an excellent song with some strong vocals, friendly melody and some great production from Hague. “Summer rain on your face, you're touched by grace, blue skies, white lies and cherry pies. Lay me down and love me, leave the light so I can see…”

The next track is the highlight Americanos which was written by Johnson, produced by Andy Richards and Steve Lovell. The song opens with a fade in of a synthesizer drone, featuring female vocal that sings the song’s title once. This opens into the song’s main melody, consisting of a friendly and infectious brass instrument, solid synthesized bass and a solid use of percussion. For the verses, Johnson gives an excellent vocal performance over the synthesizer bass and percussion, also featuring a small use of female backing vocal. The brass instrument returns with backing synthesizer blasts before the chorus begins. The song’s chorus is excellently infectious, featuring further excellent lead vocal, female backing vocal, the brass instrument, synthesizer blasts and the rhythm section. For the second verse, harmonic female backing vocals are used throughout, nicely performing under the lead vocal. Following the second chorus is a strong solo section that highlights the dominant brass instrument and a backing male voice with vocal effects. For the song’s ending, the final chorus is performed, with the halt of all instruments before the final two lines which are performed by Johnson solely, soon joined by the fade in synthesizer heard at the beginning of the song. This nicely closes the song with a quick and gentle synthesizer blast. Lyrically, the song refers to the American lifestyle and the American dream. Overall, an excellent and instantly memorable song with some brilliant vocal and a great chorus. “There's a place where a kid without a cent, he can grow up to be president. A magic kingdom filled with Barbie dolls, if you've got the time we can make it a good time…”

Deep in Love was written by Johnson and produced by Hartman. The song opens with a simple use of percussion, soon joined by a strong melody performed by a brass instrument. This brass melody soon stops, allowing one synthesizer drone to play over the percussion, whilst Johnson performs a sentence in the far distance of the song. Nicely leading up to the verse, the song’s verses feature some solid lead vocal, an occasional use of guitar and brass, synthesized bass and percussion. For the chorus, the dominant instrument becomes a Caribbean-influenced keyboard which plays a fitting melody under Johnson’s strong vocal, whilst the rhythm section continues to keep the song nicely flowing. The brass is also present, playing between the vocal, with female backing vocal present at the end of the chorus. For the third verse, a slightly different sound is given with a single synthesizer drone quietly performing behind the vocal. The next part of the song is a new vocal section, featuring some lively female backing vocal whilst Johnson performs over the top with his own vocal, backed by dominant percussion, with a hint of brass and guitar. For the song’s ending, the final two choruses are performed, with the song nicely fading out after the final one, just as the chorus begins again. Lyrically, the song refers to being deep in love, relating that to the modern lifestyle and how many people consistently buy anything they can, whether they really need it or not. Overall, a strong song with some interesting instrumentation and more strong vocal. “In this modern world full of model girls and boys, we've all wound up like consumer toys. They're scheming for you to buy products that never lie, the greatest distraction that makes you feel high…”

S.U.C.C.E.S.S. was again written by Johnson and produced by Hartman. The song begins with a short segment of classical music, soon nicely flowing into the main instrumentation of the song, consisting of a strong keyboard melody, backing synthesizer, synthesized bass and percussion. Beginning with the chorus, this section features a memorable mix of excellent vocal, female backing vocal, backed by the strong rhythm section. The first verse flows straight from the chorus, featuring further excellent lead vocal, female backing vocal, backing synthesizer, a hint of guitar and the rhythm section. Each verse features the song’s title spelt out at the end, creating a memorable chant-like sound. For the next chorus, the keyboard melody joins the instrumentation whilst continuing into the next verse. After the second chorus, a new vocal section features an excellent connection between both lead and backing vocal, backed by guitar and the dominant rhythm section. A short solo section follows, featuring the song’s main instrumentation with an added synthesizer melody, creating an interesting sound. The song comes to a close with the final chorus section which comes to a close with a clash of instruments, followed by a storm-like sound effect. Lyrically, the song promotes reaching for success whilst the verses state how someone which success wants everything and more. Overall, a fun and memorable song, although perhaps not one the stronger songs on the album. “You want a diamond ring, just about everything, spiritual grace, visit outer space. Don’t be satisfied with anything less, S.U.C.C.E.S.S…”

A great highlight of the album is Love Train which was written by Johnson, produced by Andy Richards and Steve Lovell. The song opens with a spiralling-like synthesizer sound, followed by the main instrumentation of male vocal that performs a highly infectious chant, guitar, synthesizer, synthesized bass and percussion. For the verses, Johnson gives a wonderful vocal performance over backing synthesizer and the dominant rhythm section. For the pre-chorus, Johnson gives a further excellent vocal performance, backed by a solid synthesizer drone and the rhythm section. A truly incredibly chorus follows, both infectious and fun, featuring a blend of male backing vocal, synthesizer, guitar and the rhythm section. After the chorus, an instrumental section is quickly performed, highlighting the main instrumentation and the song’s chant. Following the second chorus, an excellent guitar solo is performed, actually by Queen’s own guitarist Brian May who happened to be in the same studio, at the same time as Johnson was. Johnson requested May play the solo which May did in just one take. After this guitar solo, a new vocal section is performed, featuring further excellent lead vocal and the rhythm section. Following on, part of the verse is performed with only the two ending lines, followed by the final pre-chorus. The next chorus is nicely changed, dropping the instrumentation, featuring the male backing vocal, a small use of train sound effects, background synthesizer and the dominant percussion. The next and final chorus returns the usual instrumentation, whilst the song nicely fades out as the chorus begins again. Lyrically, the song refers to love, all about one’s feelings for another and how this one person is perfect in every way. Overall, an excellent song with a strong chant, wonderful chorus and brilliant vocal - certainly one of my favourite songs of all time. “You’re a work of art, you’re the Trevi Fountain, you’re a golden heart, you’re the highest mountain. You bring me flowers every day of my life, you save me from the worry and the strife, take me in your arms…”

Got It Made was written by Johnson and produced by Hartman. The song has an interesting opening, starting with a fade in synthesizer effect, followed by synthesized bass which is soon joined by the song’s strong synthesizer melody, background vocal and percussion. For the verses, Johnson gives a fitting vocal performance of the usual high standard, backed by synthesizer, background guitar and the dominant rhythm section. An excellent chorus follows, both strong and memorable, featuring brilliant vocal, the song’s main synthesizer melody and rhythm section. Following the second chorus section, a new vocal section is present, featuring some solid lead vocal, backed by synthesizer drones and the rhythm section which is pushed back slightly, allowing the vocal to be the highlight. An excellent guitar solo follows, nicely fitting with the backing instrumentation. Following on, Johnson performs part of the verse with only the two ending lines, leading nicely into the final chorus section. The song nicely comes to a close with the fade out of the final chorus. Lyrically, the song refers to the desire to escape a certain town, and the wish that everything was divine. The chorus states how for that short moment, all the bills are paid and that they have ‘got it made’. Overall, an excellent album track with a memorable melody, fantastic chorus and more solid lead vocal. “We sit and dream of Chevrolets, and sunshine days when we’ve got it made. We watch the planes fly up above, and make a wish that it was us. I don’t care where I’m going, as long as it’s out of here. Where people pride themselves on how well they fight in this God forsaken town…”

Love Will Come was again written by Johnson and produced by Hartman. The song has been cited as a favourite from Johnson himself. Opening with the main melody, the song begins with a nice mix of solid synthesizer, backing brass, synthesized bass and percussion. For the verses, Johnson gives a strong vocal performance, backed by synthesizer drones, a small use of backing guitar, small use of backing brass and the rhythm section. A strong chorus follows, featuring some strong lead vocal and the main instrumentation that performs the main melody with the brass section being a highlight. Following the second chorus, a strong solo section highlights some solid lead guitar over some steady percussion. A new vocal section follows, featuring some excellent lead vocal, backed by the rhythm section. In between lines, the synthesizer performs a strong melody. For the song’ ending, the final chorus is performed, followed by an instrumental section that resembles the chorus, nicely fading out and brining the song to a final close. Lyrically, the song refers to how true romance and love will come your way by surprise one day. Overall, another excellent album track with some more brilliant vocal and memorable instrumentation. “Listen to your heart, the pleasure-pain of Cupid’s dart. Those foolish ones who frown on sentiment will never find a prize that’s Heaven sent, praying for you and me for a million days filled with ecstasy…”

Perfume, again written by Johnson and produced by Hartman, opens with a fun and memorable brass section melody whilst vocal performs some ab-libs over the top, with synthesized bass and percussion nicely keeping the rhythm. For the verses, Johnson gives a dominant vocal performance of the usual standard, backed by the some interesting guitar sound effects and the rhythm section. A strong chorus features some strong lead vocal and backing vocal, a brass section and the rhythm section. The song’s main instrumentation performs the main melody instrumentally before entering the next verse. A new vocal section follows after the second chorus, highlighting solid lead and backing vocal, backed by dominant brass stabs and the rhythm section. A strong guitar solo follows, keeping the interesting sound effect whilst Johnson performs more ab-libs over the top. The next chorus features a wide use of backing vocal, some brass and a dominant rhythm beat. The usual instrumentation returns for the next chorus. For the ending, the song’s final chorus is performed, with all instruments coming to a halt, allowing Johnson to sing the last word of the final chorus. Lyrically, the song refers to one lover being ‘perfume’ for another, in the metaphorical sense of course. Overall, a good album track with a memorable chorus, although far from being a highlight on the album. A stronger, more electronic version of the song was created for the 1989 remix album Hollelujah titled Perfume (Aromatherapy Mix). “You dream of the one perfume that’s sure to change your life. Parisian nights by a flower stall, sunlight, see the jasmine fall. I will be your perfume honey, spread me on your skin…”

The album’s closer is another highlight of the album, titled Feel Good, written by Johnson and produced by Lovell. The song opens with some atmospheric synthesizer, and some light percussion. Some nice synthesizer drones soon joins the instrumentation, followed by the first verse. For the song’s verses, Johnson gives an excellent vocal performance, with synthesized bass also joining the song, all over the previous instrumentation. A strong pre-chorus opens with a sparkling sound effect and continues the same instrumentation until midway way the synthesizer drones increase speed slightly. The chorus is simple but extremely effective, featuring Johnson giving a further excellent vocal, backed by the usual instruments, with dominant synthesizer drone being the highlight. After, the instrumentation picks up with a much more dominant rhythm section. The next verse highlights this rhythm section, with synthesizer drones being used less often. More dominant synthesizer drones than before return fully for the pre-chorus, whilst the second chorus features some harmonic male backing vocal and a small use of strong guitar licks. A strong instrumental section is performed afterwards, featuring some strong percussion and background lead guitar which adds to the atmosphere greatly. After the final verse, the ending of the following pre-chorus features backing vocal. For the song’s ending, the final chorus is performed, followed by the sparking sound effect. After, Johnson whispers the song’s title, leaving one synthesizer drone, the backing synthesizer melody and percussion to slowly bring the song to a close. This is done with the removal of the synthesizer drone, all to great effect. Lyrically, the song refers to how life has ups and downs, with the chorus reminding the listener to always ‘feel good’. Overall, a truly excellent album closer, fully atmospheric and with wonderful vocal. “They say every cloud has a silver lining, but when it’s rained away, the golden sun is always shining. Summer comes and goes, cold hearts and winter snows. Kill this winter of your heart, return to spring, let summer start…”

Album Background


Upon release, Blast was a big success, particularly throughout Europe. The album was most successful in the UK, peaking at #1 and eventually going Platinum. Blast also peaked at #5 in Germany, #10 in both Norway and Switzerland, #11 in both New Zealand and Sweden, and #12 in both Italy and Austria. The lead single Love Train was a big hit throughout mainly Europe, peaking at #4 in the UK, and #65 in America. Americanos followed and was again a big success, peaking at #1 in Austria, #4 in the UK, and #36 on the American Dance Chart, as well as becoming a big hit throughout Europe. Atomic City was another success although on a slightly smaller scale, peaking at #16 in Germany and #18 in the UK, as well as charting in numerous other European countries. Finally, Heaven’s Here was released, peaking at #58 in Germany and #62 in the UK. At the time, some fans were disappointed that the 'wild' Frankie Goes To Hollywood sound had gone, and that Johnson had become a mainstream pop star. Regardless, today the album is well received throughout the fan base.

Conclusion


I highly recommend this album for any 80s pop fan. The album was an attempt for Johnson to get the true sound he wanted without any members of a band changing that. The use of different producers on certain tracks works well, keeping the album fresh throughout whilst the fact that Johnson wrote all songs, (except Atomic City which was co-written with Hartman), proves Johnson’s talent as a songwriter. In 2011, Cherry Red Records released a deluxe edition of the album, fully remastered and featuring three discs. The first two discs feature the original album, b-sides and many remixes, including those from the 1989 remix album Hollelujah, whilst disc 3 features all five music videos from the album, originally only available on out-of-print VHS. Overall, Blast is a fantastic debut from Johnson, an album that rightfully received the success it did.

I have made a preview of each track available via Youtube which gives a good feel for each song on the album: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=q4vRzWE2LsU

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Comments on this review

  • K2705 published 22/07/2012
    Very well covered
  • wazza115 published 08/05/2012
    Brilliant!
  • carlz2001 published 04/05/2012
    E..... again..... ; )
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Product Information : Blast - Holly Johnson

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1 CD(s) - Dance - Label: MCA, Island - Distributor: Pickwick, Universal Music - Released: 16/11/2009 - 5011781604221

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EAN: 5011781604221

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