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"True Love" will not be found on this record. The captivating single that strolled onto the internet last year with only soft, sad smile is not on Goon, the release that it drummed up so much anticipation for. What is on Tobias Jesso Jr.'s debut album is that same timeless voice and overriding feeling that you've heard these songs before -- and no, not just because you've seen Toy Story.
It's not even Jesso's 6"7' stature that makes him so much more than a guy at a piano reminding you of every heartwarming, tear-stained Pixar scene. (There are two kinds of people who watched "Up": those who cried and those who lie about not crying.)
Musically, he wanders from one legendary piano man to the next. A dash of Randy Newman - hence the Toy Story references for those who have not had the pleasure of listening to "Let's Drop the Big One" - to Billy Joel's 1970s barroom, and then evokes Paul McCartney with big triumphant chords that recall "Hey Jude."
While its messages have been heard a nearly infinite amount before this and umpteen more times to come, Goon has the advantage of being expertly smithed. "Can We Still Be Friends?" starts with a jarringly straightforward question: "Don't you hate it when you mess up with a friend?" With a generic operating phrase, "Without You" uses a rainy day fund of the usual modifiers like "I can hardly breathe," "I just don't know who I would be" and others. Somehow, Jesso oh-so-narrowly avoids singing maudlin screeds, turning them into endearing universal salves. The lead-off track, "Can't Stop Thinking About You," is a straight-laced tune for Mary Anne, who could be just about anybody's old flame. Jesso rarely strays too far from his piano bench except to show for some acoustic guitar playing on "The Wait." He simply asks for a date, picking his guitar strings in the same way he plays the piano - letting each note ring clear. Back on the piano, "Crocodile Tear" is the closest thing Jesso does to bombastic on the ivories, letting his voice derange on it's own for effect. But it's on "Hollywood" where Jesso cuts like an acid-coated, heat-seeking missile to the heart of what makes one hell of a pop song. A worthy stand in for fans of "True Love," Jesso seemingly traces his own time in Tinseltown getting chewed up and spit out in the breakneck world of excess.
Before heading back home to Vancouver, British Columbia, Jesso recounted the few years he spent in Los Angeles in recent interviews, noting failed bands and unsuccessful forays into writing songs for other people. Despite being a man "brought up right" who said his prayers every night, his post-L.A. song goes through a steady progression of trying to frying, and then dealing with the lying before he is finally saying goodbye. He did his best, but came face to face with a cruel world. It ended up that he was the only one who should be singing his songs. He might have written himself off, but sometimes mailing it in is the only way to get to the good thing. A little luck, "True Love" and "Just A Dream," another gem from this new record, catapulted a sad sack with a mop of curly brown hair and a soft voice to the Tonight Show and beyond. And it's hard not to be happy for him.