John and Jehn: Time for the Devil

There’s never been any doubt that the London-based French duo John and Jehn are concerned with style. John has no use for his shirt when it can be cast aside in photo sessions to reveal his tattoos and – together – they’ve done spreads for fashion mags. Musically, they’ve been similarly deliberate with all four feet in a post-punk world that (when seen live) fused Suicide with ‘Death Valley 69’ Sonic Youth. On their 2008 debut album, this was augmented with jagged snatches of Gang of Four filtered through a Velvet’s fug.
None of this is a problem of course. Most pop is underpinned by deliberation.
The real test is spontaneity. Is it alive, vital?
Second time out on album, J&J have by-passed the post-punk jaggedness and embraced a smoothed-out early/mid-80s pop. Live they’re now a four-piece, but ‘Time for the Devil’ is firmly the duo’s work. A few French elements remain – the snappy Melody Nelson-derived bass that opens both ‘Oh My Love’ and ‘Ghosts’ – but ‘Time for the Devil’ is a mid-Atlantic creation. ‘Sway’ kicks off like Billy Idol’s ‘White Wedding’ but quickly becomes something that could have bulked put The Psychedelic Furs’ ‘Forever Now’ –
the kind of melodic post-new wave pop that was embraced by America. Along this road, ‘Down Our Streets’ finds John’s vocal taking on the post-Bowie, US-inflected drawl of the Furs’ Richard Butler, while the anthemic chugger ‘And We Run’ would have been welcomed by US college radio. The reflective ‘Prime Time’ is just a step away from Eurthymics.
On occasions, ‘Time for the Devil’ veers towards satire. “Behind my shades, I can barely see” sings Jehn on ‘Shades’. OK, take them off then and join the real world. More ludicrous is the syn-drum afflicted ‘London Town’, where John tells the object of his affection “when daylight comes, I got to leave, got to run for London London London town.” The draw of the swinging city isn’t explained.
Under her given name Camille Berthomier, Jehn has appeared in films and it feels as though she’s playing a character here. There’s no one else trying on these musical clothes right now, but some spontaneity and warmth would take ‘Time for the Devil’ to the world. Without either of these it’s stilted, cold – the product of a laboratory rather than an entity that lives and breathes.
© Kieron Tyler 2010