Album: Fruit Bats – Sometimes A Cloud Is Just A Cloud: Slow Growers, Sleeper Hits And Lost Songs (2001–2021) review

by Craig Howieson

This compilation from Fruit Bats offers listeners an opportunity to pump the brakes and bask in some of the finest moments from Eric D. Johnson’s work to date

I have never been one for photo albums. Something about pawing through pictures of the past unlocks an almost unbearable sense of melancholic nostalgia in me – spurred from a lament of time lost or misspent, and a guilt at the wrongs never undone. But that is not to detract completely from their power to do good; to remember loved ones lost, view memories for a brief second through our more innocent eyes, and take note of the flashes of beauty that dart across our lives.

Perhaps the process in arranging Sometimes A Cloud is Just a Cloud was somewhat similar to curating and leafing through a photo album for Fruit Bats’ Eric D. Johnson. For an artist constantly forging forward – having released the sublime LP The Pet Parade, as well as a complete cover of Smashing Pumpkins’ Siamese Dream in 2021 – Sometimes A Cloud is Just a Cloud feels like an artist taking stock. 

When Secret Meeting spoke to Johnson last year, he explained how ‘it feels strange to celebrate a 20 year career when I feel like I’m just getting going in the last five years or so. You hear those earlier records of mine – they are kind of simpler. I’m saying less and I’m a little scared to tap into my emotions. But the last few, I’ve doubled down on that and I just feel I want to get better.’ And while it may have been hard to look back for a man with one eye at all times on the horizon, this collection is stuffed with the precious gems Johnson has scattered over his career. 

The first half is a self selected ‘best of’ that veers from the sumptuous heights of Humbug Mountain Song, to the slow waltz and smoky handclaps of the jazz bar dwelling, Flamingo. Meanwhile, the second is a treasure trove of early demos and unreleased tracks that make this collection more than worth investigating for fans both new and old.

What becomes immediately obvious in digesting snippets of his output to date – consolidated in one place – is that despite the strides he has taken; Johnson has, from the outset, been a songwriter of intimidating quality. It’s evident in the live take of Born in the 70s from 2005’s Spelled In Bones, and in the four-track demos that are far stronger than they have any right to be. And whether it is through the prism of alt folk, soft rock, pop, or even disco, Johnson’s love of his craft shines through. If his cover of the Steve Miller Band’s The Joker fails to raise a smile or bring some warmth to your heart, I suggest you check yourself for a pulse. 

Sometimes A Cloud is Just a Cloud is proof that sometimes it is nice to look back, and appreciate the special moments that have come before. Some fans may always return to the complete records themselves, but there is something about having these tracks presented together, along with unheard songs and unearthed versions, that bring a renewed appreciation for the talent whose output we have been graced with for over 20 years now. 

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