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On A Wonderful Beast, his first solo album in nine years, Johnson can’t seem to shake this goofy persona, releasing of full album of left-field indie pop. Of course, as frontman for Beat Happening and especially under the moniker Dub Narcotic Sound System, Johnson often seemed tongue-in-cheek, but tracks like the spoken/sung “A Wonderful Beast” and the Lee Hazelwood-esque “Blues Come Runnin'” seem simply unfocused, rambling and without purpose.
The issue may lie with three tracks — the sticky full-sounding indie synth run-throughs of “Kiss Me Sweetly,” “Another Teardrop Falls” and “(I’ve Still Got) Sand in My Shoes” (all featuring backing vocals from Michelle Branch) — as these numbers stand as some of the best songs Johnson has recorded in his 35-year career.
But unfortunately, nothing else on the record even comes close to matching this energy and focus. A Wonderful Beast stands as a frustrating listen; a demonstration of what Calvin Johnson can do when he’s motivated and what he can do when he’s just fucking around.