Tobias Jesso Jr - Goon
by Camilo Oswald
Tobias Jesso Jr. has no time for pretentious originality. His songs are honest, simple and heartfelt, describing the feelings that millions have felt before him. But ask yourself – does the use of typical sound template or an overused lyric really make it any less genuine? If you’re the type that instinctively sentences the phrase “there’s nothing out there without you” (preciously sung over a heartbreaking piano coda) to be cheesy, please stop reading now. This album’s not for you. There are no bass-drops on this album unfortunately – try next week (or never, if I’m writing). So leave your bravado and player-façade at the door and humour your smitten inner goon for 45 minutes – because we all have one.
Goon starts with a jolly piano introduction and the line “I lost you in a dream and my dream came true,” setting the paradoxical tone of the album – one of near-delight at the prospect of pining for someone you just can’t get. Can’t Stop Thinking About You follows this template with its remorseful mood and light-footed melody, preparing the soil for the lead single. When I first heard How Could You Babe, it stopped me in my tracks; Zane Lowe paused it live on radio and told his audience to pay attention, take a second and think about someone in your past. The two high piano chords are the brittle sound of a heart breaking; it’s the moment you find out a love of yours has moved on. Tobias describes a stop-start relationship with someone that has always been relevant, if not always continuous. There’s cocktail of emotions bubbling in the verses – cynicism, jealousy, regret, lust, resignation, helplessness, and even defiant hope. As the swooning bridge swells, it leads to the wailing outcry that is the desperate chorus in beautiful catharsis (“When I found out you’ve gone and met a new man and told him he’s the love of your life? How could you baby?”). An instant soul classic.
Without You enjoys sumptuous production and a poignant arrangement of celestial piano, piercing vocals and earnest lyrics. The ultra-relatable situation of “should I move on or should I wait?” only adds to the beautiful, wild sorrow that pours out from Tobias and the semi-accusatory middle-eight is arresting. There after follows the “friendzone” song – mercilessly called Can We Still Be Friends. It tells the tale of a boy evidently so socially conditioned by Hollywood and love songs that he just turns up at the door of someone he’s secretly always loved in order to declare said love. The title gives the ending away a tad. The Beatles comparison is undeniable in the album as a whole, especially with Tobias’ Lennon-esque melodies and tone, but it is most blatant in this song. The Wait is deliciously innocent, shy, and playful, and one of the few guitar based songs on the album. The warm string-plucking is reminiscent of mid-2000’s American indie rock, the likes of Death Cab for Cutie and Bright Eyes. This is also perhaps due partly to its subject matter - the loser gathering up the courage to ask the pretty girl on a date and biding his time with his airtight plan.
Hollywood marks a rare departure from the subject of love – it’s a reflective, defeatist ode to the town that chewed him up and spat him out. The suspenseful use of silence is astonishing and his simple rhymes switch with every verse, as he tells the story of his ill-fated stay in tinsel town. It was the first song he wrote when he went back home to Canada, after his unsuccessful attempt at breaking into the music industry, a severe break-up, and his mum being diagnosed with cancer. The story goes that he started messing about on the old grand piano at his family home, barely knowing how to play, and this song was what came out. Irony is seldom so straightforward.
For You, Crocodile Tears, and Bad Words provide the listener with a recess in intensity with a blend of impressive song-writing, interesting key changes and lavish orchestration. Crocodile Tears is a musical highlight for me as it’s almost psychedelic in parts and it’s the only time he exhibits anything resembling a cocksure persona and even reveals a taste for the dramatic (he vocalises the fake tears followed by an irresistible “Boooo”).
The saving grace of the self-deprecating state of affairs recurrent in the album comes in the form of Just a Dream – a moving, life-affirming fantasy about having a baby with the woman you love and telling your baby of the paradoxes of love and hate in the world. He confesses his own lack of understanding, but concludes by insinuating that, at that moment, all he only knows is his love for them. Leaving LA and Tell the Truth wrap up the romantic journey nicely. The former is three different song snippets really, resembling the moment she tells you when she’s leaving town – the awkwardness of asking, the wooziness of processing it, and the bold declaration of packing his bags and skipping town as well.
Goon is a moving journey through every facet of unrequited love and romantic masochism: losing your girl because you fucked up, the girl you love gets a boyfriend, standard break up blues of sullen incompleteness, the friend crush, asking-out anxiety, “she’s leaving town!” syndrome, and maybe even getting cheated on. If you were to put them in a particular order, they could all be about the same girl. More likely than not, Tobias is a hopeless romantic that falls in love with the Starbucks barista – but those sorts tend to write brilliant music. It’s an album for everyone who’s ever lusted for anyone from afar, awash with foolish delusion and disillusion, written by a boy for whom indulging in the thought of someone who doesn’t want you back seems to be his lifeblood. Listen to it, because by and large this is the best heartbreak album of the decade so far.