In a just world, Burlington rocker Johnny Azer would be a cult superstar. A productive songwriter whose tunes evoke both the grandiosity of U2 and the pathos of Daniel Johnston, Azer is one of a kind. A few years ago, he had a taste of the big time when talk show jokester Jimmy Kimmel invited him to perform on his late-night program. Azer rocked. Later, during the interview segment, he completely eclipsed the other guests, including ultra-hip comedian Dane Cook. Unfortunately, the TV appearance did little to increase his profile back home. His latest disc, And Everything Like That, is an attempt to remedy the situation.
To dismiss Azer as an "outsider" artist is to miss out on an endearing musical personality. Yes, his tunes are a little strange, but they've got more raw sentiment than most so-called "emo" acts. His anguish is the result of professional, personal and romantic frustration. It isn't easy being Johnny Azer, but he channels his turmoil into affecting, if unconventional, pop-rock.
And Everything opens with "Picture on the Wall," a sweeping, majestic ballad about unrequited love. Luxurious keyboards and guitars support Azer's yearning voice. "You made it worth getting out of bed / So true, you never messed with my head," he sings. "I deeply miss your laugh, and deeply miss your smile / Your heart is free of all things vile." You can't doubt a guy who sounds this sincere.
"Jimmy Kimmel" chronicles the highs and lows of semi-fame. A burst of applause kicks things off, followed by a brief spoken passage. "I'd like to thank Jimmy Kimmel for the finest moment in my life," Azer exclaims. "Two years have gone by, and what the hell happened?" The song is run-of-the mill guitar rock, but its lyrics are rife with heartache: "Girls look at me like I'm on death row / 'Cause I got no cash, looks, car or blow," he wails. "Life's not Jimmy Kimmel -- it's the only time I was truly happy." Pretty tragic stuff.
My favorite cut is "Mind Control," which portrays Azer as a wasted warrior on a psychic battlefield. "I'm so tired fighting your mind control / Still you'll never own my soul / I'm starting to feel God's chills / You robbed me of my free will," he intones.
In a scene full of preening hipsters, Azer is a breath of fresh air. Keep up the good fight, Johnny.