This Perfect World

(1994), 8/10
This Perfect World was Johnston’s most successful album and his major label debut, and its opening single ‘Bad Reputation’ was a minor hit. It’s the most conventionally singer-songwriter album in his discography; it’s comparatively acoustic, and lacks the rawness of his earlier work and the poppy sheen of his later albums. Tom Waits sideman Marc Ribot adds his distinctive guitar lines to some of the tracks, while cello adds a mournful undertone to the title track and ‘Evie’s Garden’. Of all people, Butch Vig produces, but the end results sound nothing like Garbage. Johnston’s song writing is more developed and his character sketches more convincing, but This Perfect World lacks the visceral impact and charm of Can You Fly, and is a little too understated and mono-textural for its own good. That’s not to say that some of these songs aren’t catchy; ‘Dolores’ bounces along on an infectious acoustic riff, ‘Can’t Sink This Town’ adds punchy guitars to its memorable chorus, while ‘Bad Reputation’ is hooky and flows effortlessly without demarcated verses and choruses. But the tone of This Perfect World is much more informed by the pensive subjects that dominate the track-listing; the title track gives a voice to a prisoner on death row (“But I still deserve to say goodbye/No matter what I’ve done”), and while the music of ‘Two Lovers Stop’ is deceptively upbeat as the lyrics outline a suicide pact. The pair of ‘Evie’s Tears’ and ‘Evie’s Garden’ are both downers, while ‘Cold Again’ and ‘Gone Like The Water’ also deal with loss and grief. This Perfect World probably falls into the category of an album I respect a lot, rather than an album I love; it has such a dark undertow that it’s not always that fun to listen to, but it’s admirably well-crafted.

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