January is no-one’s favourite month: you’re skint, you’re cold and you’re pretty sure you’re over the hill. Fortunately, Glasgow’s own The Just Joans feel much the same, and this January brings their fourth album: The Private Memoirs and Confessions of The Just Joans. The title alludes both to James Hogg’s gothic novel The Private Memoirs and Confessions of a Justified Sinner (a depiction of Calvinist Christian fanaticism, published in 1824), but also the memories, however vague, of songwriter David Pope, and his increasing awareness of “the onset of middle-aged ennui”.
Thematically, the latter pretty much sums up the theme album’s opener ‘Hey Ho, Let’s Not Go’ with David sounding perfectly justified in wanting to just watch Match of the Day whilst fellow vocalist, his sister Katie, reminds the album’s narrators of the old times and nights out in the battleground of town. If the song’s lyrics are negative and insular, however, that’s a counterpoint to the bold brass that opens the album – a deliberate choice by the band to open up their sound, by roping in multi-instrumentalist Arion Xenos and keyboardist Alison Eales (from fellow Glaswegians, Butcher Boy).
Second track ‘Who Does Susan Think She Is?’ is hilariously cynical, focusing on that one friend who suddenly decides to go to art school and turn vegan, whilst ‘Wee Guys (Bobby’s Got A Punctured Lung)’ contemplates acts of violence involving lads on the street.
The album’s middle section contains its most heartfelt tracks, dominated by Katie’s winning vocals. Ranging from ‘Dear Diary, I Died Again Today’ – a lush string-laden ballad, and ‘When Nietzsche Calls’ – a sort of twisted torch song with a growing brass section, to ‘The One I Loathe the Least’, a minor key lilt whose stand-out lyric refers to the population as “subhuman scum”.
So far, so sophisti-pop, but there’s C64 cred here too, with the squelchy synths and guitar wash of ‘My Undying Love For You Is Beginning to Die’, the dating disaster synth-pop of ‘Another Doomed Relationship’, until the album closes with the echoey Visage vocals of ‘Like Yesterday Again’, which sounds like the album sweetly expiring under the weight of its own efforts. There’s also pop-rock in the form of ‘The Older I Get The More I Don’t Know’ and the Ben Folds-y ‘Holiday’, whilst the album still has space for a nostalgically baroque tune in the shape of ‘People I Once Knew’.
Named for the agony aunt Joan Burnie, and her ‘Just Joan’ column in The Daily Record, it’s appropriate that The Just Joans may not necessarily tap into your best emotions – but they certainly make you feel a lot better about having them. For a band whose lifespan now stretches to four albums, it’s impressive that the cynicism, the bitterness and, most damning of all, the optimism of life as an outsider are still felt as strongly. It may say more about this writer’s age than the album, but there’s something reassuring about knowing you’re not the only one having a tough time and The Just Joans capture that feeling just so.
The Private Memoirs and Confessions of The Just Joans is out now via Fika Recordings. Listen/buy on Bandcamp.
Photo Credit: Allan Whyte Photography