If you’ve ever played Guitar Hero 3 before, you’ve heard of Eric Johnson whether you realized it or not. Those of you who made it to the later stages of the game will likely remember his song ‘Cliffs of Dover’, four minutes of glorious guitar wizardry between you and the final section of the game.
The song is by far Johnson’s most popular, and it’s exemplary of all the things that make him a stellar musician. His unmatched technical skill makes him a cornerstone of every guitar geek’s record collection, but his unique sense of melody grounded that talent and made him more widely accessible to all audiences. His furious fretwork is enough on its own to make him a legend, but he writes music, as opposed to writing excuses to set his fretboard aflame.
For these reasons and many more, Johnson’s music has endeared for decades, even beyond the iconic ‘Cliffs of Dover’. How much of that musical DNA is present in his new album, Collage? All of it! Is it just as good as the albums he put out in his heyday? …I mean, I guess.
It’s great; don’t get me wrong. The beautiful melodies, utterly unique sense of harmony, and heavenly guitar tones are all still there. But they’ve always been there. The focus is a little different, admittedly; the guitar playing is a little slower but more interesting, more songs have vocals than don’t, and a few of the tracks get pretty jazzy. It’s great to listen to, and would make a great entry point into Johnson’s catalogue, but there’s nothing new to offer those who are already familiar with him. There’s also the problem of Johnson’s vocals, which are put to use here more than on any other album. He can hit the right notes, and his great sense of melody and harmony carries over nicely, but there’s nothing that interesting about his voice, and the lyrics aren’t the most insightful. It’s an admittedly minor gripe, but it’s persistent throughout the album.
Overall there are some great moments here; the soaring guitar solo in ‘Rock Me Baby’, the smooth, jazzy feel of ‘To Love You’, the gorgeous instrumentals ‘Stratagem’ and ‘One Rainy Wish’. It’s a good album; it just doesn’t really feel like a new one.