This debut album from Leeds based quartet opens with slightly sinister lounge-jazz stylings and vocals barked like a Circus ringmaster, before lurching into its theatrical verse telling the tale of titular Johnny Sideways like a weird amalgam of Captain Beefheart and The Who circa Tommy, though they most closely resemble arch-supper club outfit Smokehand for all their wry humour mixed with story-telling rock.
There is, however, something peculiarly dated about the sound of this record, exemplified on the Spinal Tap goes Latin licks on Jesta, it straddles an uncomfortable line between somewhat serious cod-rock and self-parody. It’s a little difficult to distinguish whether their tongue is in their cheek or not.
Things go a rather Nick Cave on Dirty Wilson, its despairing backing vocals far more satisfying than the squawked lead that gurgles passionately ‘I think you’re lying!’ Meanwhile Boots has a pleasantly boppy beat, but is, for the most part a peculiar background noise, whilst Sick of Waiting marks the halfway point with a slow, mellow opening in which the vocals are growled a la lighters-aloft Guns ‘n’ Roses and leads into the reasonably toe-tapping groove of Blood and Sand, though outside of that pleasantly pulsing bass-line the track murmurs off down dull tangents.
The scruffy, angular guitar chugs that open Baltic Whistler are a nice, arch starting point, but the track lacks energy and some gnarled spoken word stuff in the middle nudges things into sub-par Tenacious D territory, and it just doesn’t seem to fit, the music’s shifts seem to generally be there in place of ideas rather than actually being an indication of creativity. That’s not to say these guys are devoid of imagination, it’s just that they don’t really seem to have finessed their sound into something that doesn’t sound fidgeting, derivative and out-of-date.
The album comes to a close with Salalar which moves from sleepy, awkward verses into quite rousing choruses of ‘Far away!’, buoyed by a rich assembly of backing vocals. But the to and fro from verse to chorus is uninspiring, like flicking between two television stations, and it continues this harsh see-sawing until the track comes to a sudden halt.
A muddled and muddy record, a little unsteady on its feet and never really finding itself. Japanese Fighting Fish have a distinctive sound, thanks primarily to their singer’s exuberant delivery, but their songs either never get off the ground or keep darting, distractedly in various directions leaving this 10 track LP a generally unfulfilling and underwhelming listen.