‘The Private Memories and Confessions of The Just Joans’ is a living, breathing paradox. It’s a dizzyingly fun pop record about impossibly bleak truths.
Set in a left-behind town of closed record stores, closed cinemas and empty factories, the Glasgow sextet wonder with awe at how love leaks through the cracks of the potholed roads, at how its people continue to have hope in spite of crippling austerity measures, the bleakest weather going and mindless violence.
‘The One I Loathe the Least’ is its centrepiece. A story of two lovers that bond over their cynicism, their dismay at all that moves. David and Katie Pope take on the lovers’ roles with ease, the honesty inherent to their sibling relationship allowing them to voice their desires and insecurities without fear of judgement. They rail against ‘morons’ and ‘sub-human scum’ before in unison they hark, “Thank heavens I found you / the one I loathe the least”. Love can flourish even in the lives of those least likely to believe it exists.
Susan tries to appear superior to her neighbours but the whole street knows she’s lying. “We both know you haven’t got a clue about foreign films / your favourite show is still Friends”. Singer Katie Pope loves her all the same though, closing ‘Who Does Susan Think She Is?’ by asking, “are you still my best friend?” and hoping that the answer is ‘yes’. They all dream of escape, respite, sunnier climes, “Fly me to the sun / where the fun has just begun / and the seas are blue for me and you” they beg on ‘Holiday’.
By introducing strings and brass to their bleak songs, The Just Joans succeed in making the record’s contrasts even starker. They knowingly blend something pretty and luxuriant with themes and words that are anything but. Lead single, ‘Dear Diary, I Died Again Today’ is a swooning lament where Katie Pope counters the strings’ resplendence with lyrics about ‘eating crisps’. Though their employment may be ironic, there’s no question that the strings and Katie’s sweet, accented vocal make for one beautiful couple.
Since 2017’s ‘You Might Be Smiling Now…’, The Just Joans have grown slightly older, slightly wearier. On opener, ‘Hey Ho, Let’s Not Go’ they reflect on how they’ve come to prefer a night in with a takeaway to a night on the piss. Voice recordings capture the various excuses David proffers when friends ask him out, “Look you’re not going to believe this, I totally forgot I had this other thing planned”, “A crisis has kinda come up and I’m just not going to make it along”.
Mostly though they concede that age does not bring wisdom, nor contentment, nor an understanding of how slithers of humanity still eek out in the harshest of conditions. On ‘Another Doomed Relationship’ Katie sings, “It’s the hope that kills you, it’s the hope”. Funnily enough it’s also the thing that keeps us alive.