Daniel Johnston - Songs of Pain (Early Recordings)

Music Reviews Daniel Johnston
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Daniel Johnston - Songs of Pain (Early Recordings)

There's been much said about Daniel Johnston. So much said, that his songs and his personality rest somewhere between myth and legend. I’ve heard stories about how he’ll freeze during a performance, raise his right hand and yell, “Hail, Hitler!” Then there are others of how naïve he is, how persistent he is as an artist and how he's obsessed with The Beatles. Whatever the case, Johnston’s first two albums don’t do anything to hush these stories. So, they’ve been remastered, re-released and put reissued as a two-disc set.

He sounds insane, he sounds naïve and he sounds obsessed with The Beatles. Mind you, those are all good things, at least on this collection. And some would say such stories are what's best about outsider music. Actually, if there's one thing these early Daniel Johnston songs prove, it’s that novel tunes don't last, but real songs do. Sure there's some novelty here but, all in all, Johnston is a good songwriter. His unfiltered honesty penetrated the boundaries of traditional pop before Conor Oberst was even born.

The only real problem here is song consistency. They flow into each other, blurring the end of one song into the beginning of another. Lyrics continue to stand out, though, as Johnston’s bleak, ironic tone expresses, “we talked of things in the good-book, while there was a naked lady on TV. She had no care, she had no shame, she had little propeller’s on.” If all this music is new to you, songs that stick out are slightly harder to come by. Don’t get frustrated though, give a second listen to “Phantom of My Own Opera,” “Premarital Sex,” “Brainwash,” “You Put My Love out the Door,” “Poptunes,” and Johnston’s cover of the Beatles' “I Will.”

The fact is, 37 songs is a big chunk of music. This isn’t the type of release to just listen to casually. This really isn’t any type of release though. It’s just Daniel Johnston in his truest form. These recordings capture an artist before he became novel, before he was produced with thousand-dollar studios and before there were books and articles written about him.

If you’re a new fan of Daniel Johnston, and want to know how he's arrived at where he is now, don’t miss this uncompromising piece of his work. And if you’re an old fan of Johnston's, these recordings used to be somewhat rare so they're well worth the cost.