An elegy to Rice’s past self
Johnathan Rice’s newest album entitled The Long Game is itself a long game, one that passes slowly and does not rush itself through the ten tracks. Rice wants to win the listener over with his gentle guitar strumming and rich voice, but he is content with unfolding this game at his own pace.
Rice’s voice is rich and dream-like, especially on “Silver Song.” The combination of Rice’s voice and the cycling arpeggios in the song enchant the listener and bring you to another world even as Rice sings “wake up, little dreamer. It is time to rise. Open up your eyes. Open up your eyes.” The bass drum repeating every measure simulate your own heartbeat and make you feel like you’re slipping even deeper into a dream.
Such an illusion is a common theme on the album. What Rice is interested in is facing the illusion that once made hazy his conscience. “Hollow Jubilee” is Rice’s chance to reflect on the unfulfilling life living in a “post-orgasmic haze.” “You pretend to be you, I’ll pretend to be me,” summarizes the sort of shallowness that Rice wants to escape in this song and throughout the album.
There is a vulnerability in Rice’s expression of pain in the album. However, even the vulnerability seems to be clouded by a sense that Rice is performing the vulnerability rather than feeling it genuinely. In “Naked in the Lake,” Rice blames “amphetamine ambition and champagne wishes” for steering him wrong but seldom explores the regret much further.
The album is not a particularly hopeful one, but Rice provides a glimmer of hope with “Change” which is a song that sounds like it would be played in a movie scene where high schoolers are slow dancing at prom. It has all the cheesiness you’d expect, but the kind of heart and nostalgia that draws you two the song nonetheless. Rice is accompanied by Beach Boys-like backing vocals that, true to the tone of the album, sound more dreamy than cheery.
The album opens with a duet sung by Rice and Courtney Marie Adams. Her graceful voice, with more of a country twang than Rice, is a welcome and warm addition to the song. She features on “Millions of Miles” towards the end of the album, and her voice is a much-appreciated change. Her voice is clear and strong and adds a bright quality that complicates the sorrowful themes of “Millions of Miles.”
There is a sense of inevitability in Rice’s lyrics. The album is deeply personal and relies on Rice’s own experience and reflections. In these reflections, he often blames outside forces for his own regrets and mistakes (“Jesus took the wheel/ he nearly wrecked my ride”) so even as he tries to reckon with the past, Rice looks elsewhere for the responsibility.
“Friends,” the final track on the album is a departing salutation by Rice to the listener, the album and the period of his life from which the album arises. “We reached the end / found it together” Rice sings as if trying to acknowledge the effect his listener’s attention had on his ability to express himself. This is the most personal and most moving song because it is about moving forward. Though the album begins to drag in the middle, “Friends” appropriately wraps up what Rice has been trying to say the whole time. Whatever it was that Rice said, felt or did, “now and forever / this song is sung.”