Like listening to your boyfriend sweet-talk you into forgiving his transgressions.
Listening to The Fall of Hobo Johnson is like listening to your boyfriend sweet-talk you into forgiving his transgressions. Whether or not you enjoy the album depends on: 1) how deeply you see into Johnson’s bullshit and 2) whether or not you’re willing to roll with it.
The Sacramento rapper born Frank Lopes emerged last year with the Tiny Desk Contest entry for “Peach Scone,” in which he smoked a cigarette in a backyard and mugged into the camera to make his face all but indelible. He didn’t win the contest, but the impact was immediate. Some gushed over his originality and emotional depth. Others cracked jokes about his smell, compared him to obnoxious slam poets, pointed out that the song was just him bitching about how a girl won’t fuck him.
Here’s the thing: Lopes is charming. In a grotty way, yes, but charming. He’s kind of hot. He has nice teeth and dark eyes and a lot of enthusiasm. His music is ramshackle and interesting, defined by starts and stops that fluctuate with the volume of his voice. No one’s ever really rapped the way he has before, vacillating between punk belting and a puppy-dog whine halfway between a sob and a laugh.
This is his second album (the first was The Rise of Hobo Johnson), and his style is set in stone. If you liked him before, you’ll love him here. If you didn’t like him before, you’ll hate him even more. If you were seduced by his charisma in spite of your better self, The Fall will only confuse you further.
The bottom, indisputable line is his emotional greed. “Mover Awayer” describes the emotional effects of a girl moving away, maybe because of “something that I say,” to a place where “nobody even lovingly says her name.” “Every single guy she’s ever loved to me sounds really fucking dumb and stupid,” he complains – but do they make her cry, as Johnson describes doing to a girl on three separate songs?
The song ends with “the hopeless protagonist” (him) dying “in the end.” Nearly every song here is framed as a story. “Uglykid”: “This is the story of a kid who was kinda chunky.” “Sorry My, Dear”: “Have you heard the story of the guy who decided not to die?” “Typical Story” – you guessed it.
Every event in his life is an opera in which he’s the lead diva, so how do we respond to his aria on “Sorry, My Dear,” where his fear of being alone drives him to fits of in-the-red screaming? If a girl moving away is enough to trigger his symbolic death, we don’t know how seriously we’re supposed to take any of the emotional stakes.
Lopes comes off as a jerk, but he’s a seductive one. “You make my Mondays feel like Fridays/ And my Ruby Tuesdays feel like Benihanas” is an A-plus twee lyric. When he says, “I’m like being stuck in Bakersfield and walking home,” we want to console him and tell him he’s not that grody. The puppy-dog voice does make us want to care for him, the way your boyfriend might make whining sounds if he really wants something from you.
It’s easy to say “fuck this guy.” I say: fuck this guy, but only once.