In 2011 Will Johnson turned 40. In that same year his rock and roll project, the group Centro-Matic, released what I think is their best album (I might qualify this by calling it their most cohesive album–the center holds), Candidate Waltz. The next year Johnson released the album Scorpion under his own name and it, too, seems to me to be Johnson’s best album.
Of Candidate Waltz–Joel Oliphint wrote in Paste, June 20, 2011,
Aside from “All the Talkers,” Johnson’s lyrics are typically enigmatic and more about creating images or an overarching feeling than spinning yarns. It’s more about the way he sings the words, the mood he evokes, rather than the words themselves. Sure, that’s sometimes code for “lazy songwriting,” but with Johnson, that’s not (usually) the case. On Candidate Waltz, the riffage, the tattered vocals and the taut melodies suck you into that happy place where, if you’re picking up what Johnson is throwing down, great. And if not, great. The album resonates either way.
Perhaps it’s accurate to call Johnson an “impressionist” or a kind of “mood geographer” as a lyricist and musician (and perhaps as a painter as well).
But in 2012’s Scorpion, Johnson has created another “cohesive” album as it too has a center that holds, and that center is the album’s eponymous arachnid as a symbol of “true nature” best characterized in Aesop’s Fable, “The Scorpion and the Frog.”
Which is to say, Johnson, in Scorpion, has told an album-length story that seems to me to dramatize the human in a particular time and place but also to have dramatized an aspect of human nature that isn’t bound by those constraints (the where and when of the story). Further, this album has the feel of intimate self-revelation.