Alain Johannes: Spark (2010) Album Review

Master guitarist and don to the desert rock producing world, Alain Johannes takes to the skies with his debut record Spark.

Written by Willemijn Barker-Benfield

Alain Johannes Spark

You might not know it, but you know Alain Johannes. Producer and artist extraordinaire, having previously produced and collaborated with the infamous Queens of the Stone Age; No Doubt, PJ Harvey, Eleven, and toured with the super group Them Crooked Vultures earlier this year, Johannes is renowned throughout many rock circles for his mesmerising guitar skills, which in March of this year had me caught in a spell during a musical intermission of the Crooked Vultures’ intense set. Thinking Johannes was a brave man to compete with the likes of Grohl, Homme and Jones, I was left blown away by his talent and unequivocal sound.

Johannes Alain Tim Norris
Photograph by Tim Norris.

Making a stand in his own right, Johannes recently released his debut record Spark, co released with Dangerbird Records and Rekords Rekords, the latter label set up by fellow musical maestro Josh Homme of QOTSA and Them Crooked Vultures fame. This is definitely a family affair, and what an awesome family. Dedicating his debut record to his late wife and producing partner Natasha Shneider, fellow Queens of the Stone Age and Eagles of Death Metal collaborator, there is a great sense of magnitude, of heartfelt pain and strength that breathes through the tracks. First track and single Endless Eyes is a beautifully and eloquent tribute to Natasha, and sets the tone for the entire record. Johannes’ signature cigar box guitar creates such a definitive sound it’s refreshing to describe as innovative and enchanting. However stand out tracks include Return to You, which has an unashamed Beatles-esque tone to it, bringing an air of nostalgia and warmth to the record, which can’t be a bad thing.

The record stealing guitar crescendo of a masterpiece to my ears is the incredible Speechless, which builds with such classical and flamenco ferocity; it’s topped by Johannes’ elegant vocals that beautifully complete the ghostly track. Gentle Ghosts draws the record toward its close, but not without a trek through a sensory mind field that awakes the goose bumps scheduled for truly remarkable artists. There’s so much passion and raw emotion surging through Spark, its hard not to feel a greater sense of appreciation. Closing with Unfinished Plan, a classical guitar led cathartic and heartbreaking end to a brilliant debut. Spark shines and splinters through Johannes’ incredibly personal journey, and I’m pretty stoked to be along for the ride.

Alain Johannes’ Spark is for those who likes a bit of substance sprinkled over their desert rock desserts, a treat of a record that won’t turn sour the more you listen. Johannes brings light to the desert rock scene, which, though never fading, has now taken a new and brilliant direction.

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