Hobo Johnson has always kept the attention of many due to his erratic and anxiety induced emo-spoken word raps that dives deep into themes of depression and love, amongst the globalized discrepancies in the social divide from wealth. In many ways Hobo Johnson is like if comedian Mike Birbiglia took his early comedy bits and turned them into quirky raps that carry enough gravitas to reel you in, albeit his uncanny flows and musical production. In past albums, Hobo Johnson has had a more wound and concise scale of production, until Hobo Johnson further got in his emotional and literary bag further delivering breaths of fresh air in music. Instead of delivering music from an emotional core, Hobo Johnson’s new approach his music distinguishes problematic issues today and personal issues to deliver a thematically derivative album in The Revenge of Hobo Johnson.
Hobo Johnson isn’t one to dwindle or mince words when he performs/delivers his vocals. His tonal shifts lay out emotions and thoughts spread thinly across a long coffee table, where it’s reconstructed into a fantastic mess. This inherent quality has been passed from album to album, further defining his linguistic delivery into fully formed thoughts in music that make these spoken-word hybrid raps more gripping, as if it were coming from something more conventional. His music isn’t for the universal pop masses, and it shows.
The Revenge of Hobo Johnson trades much of the quirky fun raps we’ve come to know of him in the past, like “DeMarcus Cousins and Ashley” or “Subaru Crosstrek,” for empathetic quirkiness. The closest thing to his esoteric quirkiness comes on the track “I want to see the World.” This has Hobo Johnson rapping about places he wants to visit based on preconceived notions of the culture he finds great and cool, like mentioning the French’s keen attention to dancing and rhythm, as well as great soda (according to him). But it comes with twists, as he starts to express the problems imposed on the world by others, criticizing what has been done unfairly to the people, like when he mentions the farmers of Honduras and the monetization of their farmland. Although his quirkiness is part of his vocal nature, it’s the way the subtleties are delivered that create the varying depth in his music; specifically in the subject matter that he tackles.
A lot of Hobo Johnson’s new album contains tracks where he mounts a 3-inch high soapbox and delivers perplexing ideas about the world and its influences, whether broad or tightened, like on “Song 9 (The Government’s Not Great).” This has him these angst-driven and slightly over the top delivery, where you start to lose sense about where this is going as he takes jabs at his “competitors” Twenty One Pilots and The 1975. The plus side of this is that now we have a firmer grasp at what kind of artist Hobo Johnson is, considering his fluidity with the sounds he emboldens in his music.
This kind of work can sound preachy if not approached with care and intuitiveness, which Hobo Johnson usually applies, but he delivers it with screaming ferocity, you start to wander off into selecting something new. “You Need Help,” does this without nuance or encapsulating factors to keep you reeled in. He has moments where these types of tracks have weight on them like “My Therapist” and “Prequel To Animal Farm,” both of which take jabs at capitalism and fundamentalism in the world of business. He draws scenes, using George Orwell’s Animal Farm as a way to distinguish the working class to the upper, more affluent, class that has control over the livelihood of someone. The way he incorporates the themes of the novel into this track is a definitive lyrical highlight.
Regardless of the consistency from the content within the music, it isn’t where Hobo Johnson shines. While he delivers these auspicious themes on tracks like “I want you Back,” despite not having the same gravitational pull as his more personal tracks, like the acoustic ballad “You Want A Baby.” The production is simple, crisp, elevating the emotional grip Hobo bears, from proclaiming his unwavering love for his current girlfriend and trading his own happiness for the love and spirit of his girlfriend’s happiness that continues to give him reason to continue. These kinds of sentimental beats have always been where we see the broken nature of his being splattered all over the microphone. It meshes with the tender production sprinkled throughout the album and gives it an identity on this third chapter closing for him.
The Revenge of Hobo Johnson doesn’t deliver with the manic bravado that his last album had, but still has its bright spots where you’ll still find enough to go back to. It’s approach to creating stories and analogies that transpire into this range of universal themes with slight redundancies.