Like a travel brochure you'll never get in the mail, EXOTIC ANIMALS & BEACHES OF PENNSYLVANIA is Johnny's follow up to his acclaimed FIRE project (2000). A mash of jangly power pop, reggae backbeats and psychedelic humor, EXOTIC contains remixes of songs from FIRE plus some new material and reissues of older demos and singles. For "scrapalatians," the project is surprisingly cohesive.
It beings with the guitar-driven SHE'S NOT SOME ANIMAL, a single recalling Badfinger, The Beach Boys, Elvis Costello and the Kinks all in one. The lyrics are a slice-of-life from Blair's days living in San Francisco.
On the title cut, Davy Jones of The Monkees lays some zany narration over a bed of a progressive rock band (anyone remember Van Der Graaf Generator?) jamming with a string quartet. The music recalls "spy movie music" but with a twist of espionage in Amish country.
For a 4-track demo, NO BE NO YES BE YES sounds like David Bowie at his slickest Euro-pop.
Another highlight is DUMB ANGEL. Blair wrote the lyrics from a dream that Brian Wilson was Sunday driving around a town he grew up in. No wonder--the title is from an obscure Beach Boy project.
The edit-remix of LIGHTEN UP (the long version is on FIRE) is a delight, with a Brit-pop melodicism and reggae rhythm supporting a great storyline.
The set closes with (I WANNA BE IN) PENNSYLVANIA. It's an ode to Pennsylvania much like those "American tales" the Beach Boys used to make. Mike Roe (of The 77s) makes a creamy cameo vocal appearance on the bridge.
This is the lighter side of Blair--a good primer if you've never heard his music.
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