Album Review: Joanovarc – “Joanovarc”
This should have been so easy. When Joanovarc released their storming debut Ride Of Your Life it was one of the unexpected triumphs of 2016, and positioned them as one of the bright hopes for British rock ‘n’ roll going forward. And with both of their nearest contemporaries in the whole “all-girl rock ‘n’ rollers” stakes the Amorettes and Tequila Mockingbyrd both imploding then, weirdly, merging this year (Tequilamorettingbyrd? I dunno), this second album should have an open goal for them to position themselves right at the head of the pack.
Unfortunately, if we’re going to stick with the football analogy here, this self-titled sophomore effort is equivalent to watching your team’s midfield play a brilliant through ball to your striker, only to see said striker blast the ball straight over the bar from five yards out. In a way, somewhat ironically, it reminds me a bit of White Hot Heat, the Amorettes’ disappointing follow-up to their breakthrough, which saw the record company smooth a lot of the rough edges off that had won them the plaudits in the first place, and just fell a bit flat.
It’s evident right from the off when opening track Burning sounds less like the feral snarl of the Runaways or Girlschool and more akin to the slick overly-glossy MOR rock of Pat Benatar or Vixen. The vocals practically scream “singing lessons” at you, where once the guitars blasted shamelessly flashy solos left, right and centre, here they sound a lot more reined in and the whole thing has a disappointing aura of “more is less” about it. And sadly it’s far from the sole offender here either – People Coming Up and Take It Out see Joanovarc veering towards I Was Made For Loving You style disco-rock and really are pretty dire, while other tracks just sound over-produced to within an inch of their life (Struts syndrome anyone?).
To be fair, this album does get better as it goes on, even if some of it takes its cues from the last places you’d expect – recent single Jane is a reasonable slice of funky rock which oddly recalls Two Princes by early 90s grunge-pop types the Spin Doctors, while at least the two ballads here give the more polished vocals a chance to shine a bit. When We Were Young is a nice elegy to lost youth which oddly sounds a bit like a more muscular version of Flowers In The Window by Travis (and I mean that in a good way I promise you), and the stark stripped-down Go Home (which owes a sly melody nod to Feeder’s Just The Way I’m Feeling) is a good sign-off to the album.
It’s maybe telling though that the strongest moment here comes from the track just before it, Slipping Away, a re-recorded number from one of the band’s very early EPs which has all the power, urgency and swagger of old that’s otherwise lacking here, and is a depressing snapshot of what this album could have been. We can only hope that this is just a case of growing pains, which the band will get out of the way with their next effort.
When a band reach the second album stage there's about a million and one ways to go about it, and it's a crying shame that Joanovarc have gone for one of the wrong ones. This album has enough good moments scattered about to keep it just on the right side of average, but compared to their storming debut it can only really be classed as a bit of a disappointment. Hopefully when they unleash album number three on the world it'll be a reminder of just what they can do when they hit full power.