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Rapture Waltz by Johnny Manchild and the Poor Bastards: Album Review

When the pandemic happened in 2020, the whole world shut down. For the first time in existence, every human shared a collective sense of loneliness and isolation. In Rapture Waltz, Johnny Manchild captures his feelings of isolation and fear into a rock opera for the Poor Bastards 4th album.

Rapture Waltz is an absolute gut punch of an album. For those unfamiliar with the music of Johnny Manchild and the Poor Bastards, their songs sway from beautiful compositions to absolute mayhem in a matter of seconds. In my opinion, JMPB does a balance of quiet and loud offerings like not her modern band. They don’t make easy listening tunes. Each song is chalk full of dense instruments that are hard to notice in just one listen. Rapture Waltz is an album that builds off itself and gets better after every listen.

For those who have listened to the Poor Bastards before, this album isn’t a new direction, more of a reimagining of the band’s sound. When JMPB started, they were a jazz punk band. Insomnia, their first album, is full of jazz punk songs like “Blushed” and “Lambs.” They’ve kept these roots over the years but have strayed more towards into the alternative territory. Rapture Waltz is a return to more of those gritty, punk sounds, but with the added experience of their sprawling 3rd album, We Did Not Ask for This Room. Songs like “Oh, Songbird” and “Polarity” up the pace, with the latter having one of the meanest guitar licks of any JMPB song.

Uncharacteristically, Rapture Waltz is a guitar heavy record. Manchild normally mans the keys in the band, but on this album, he plays both instruments in the recording process. This adds to the punk sound of the album, with “So Much Better” being a standout of the guitar-heavy songs.

This album is an eclectic mix of sounds. It obviously features the aforementioned punk tendencies, but the album features songs that could fit in genres like emo, funk-rock, singer-songwriter ballads, and more. Rapture Waltz starts a new era for the Poor Bastards. Manchild focused on making Rapture Waltz in a song-by-song basis, leading to an enlightened recording process.

“When we recorded We Did Not Ask for This Room, I had every piece of music written out and practiced before we went to the studio,” says Manchild. “We recorded each instrument individually, recording all the bass parts for the whole album at once, then the piano parts and so on. For Rapture Waltz, I flew my drummer Ethan Neel out to the studio we were working at, and we worked on each song together. We would jam for 30 minutes to an hour before recording each song individually. This process was better because we were able to see each song being formed and we were able to tweak things if we needed to.”

The process worked because Rapture Waltz is a beautiful album, from a composition and lyrical standpoint. Songs like “Beyond Me” make me feel like I’m levitating while listening to it. The strictly piano ballad “Better Unsaid” is one of the album’s strongest lyrically, with Manchild singing lyrics like “I can’t say I ashamed that I want what I want. You can say I’m to blame. Put it all back to bed. Punch it in, punch it out, some things are better unsaid.”

For longtime fans, the song you’ll probably automatically drift towards is “Beyond Me.” It sounds like it could fit right in with We Did Not Ask for This Room or One Big Beautiful Sound. It has a full band composition, drums and all. It’s a swinging jazz rock ballad that’s beautifully constructed, and it’s the longest track on the album. The instruments pair wonderful with Manchild’s vocals. It’s a phenomenal track and one of my favorites off of the whole album. Listening to this song feels like walking on clouds.

Like most JMPB albums, Manchild bares his soul in the lyrics. “Fake Me Out” is about Manchild’s struggles with Bipolarity at a party. The song does a great job at expressing bipolarity through music, with the song feeling like a ticking bomb of explosive sounds paired with more silent moments. The piano ticks down during the song, adding to the affect that Manchild could blow up at any moment.

The chorus, which goes like “Fake me out, take me for a heartbeat. I’m happier than I’ve ever been. Make me the center of attention. Get me out, let me be alone again. I love you like I never knew how; I hate you so much it makes me sick. I’m begging for another way out. I’m dying for another way back in,” expresses Manchild’s condition in a catchy, punk chant.

“Oh, Songbird” is a warning for this post pandemic world. Manchild isn’t optimistic for the future of the world in this song but offers hope with the lyric, “Find me in the spring.” “Everything Stays” deals with the feeling of isolation and gives off the vibes of paranoia while listening with Manchild’s vocals echoing throughout the song. “Friends” tells the story of a toxic friendship that features an atmospheric composition. It’s smooth and sultry until Manchild bursts into a ball of anger during the chorus.

“Centerfold” might be the fastest JMPB song in terms of pace. The song feels like you’re on a sinking ship, trying your hardest to escape quickly before drowning. The song moves so quick it’s almost overwhelming. It’s definitely a song that needs multiple listens to gage any sort of meeting as it goes by so quick. Luckily, the song is just under three minutes, so it’s easy to keep coming back to. The groove of the song is infectious. Just hearing the opening riff makes me one to jump around, run, dance or shadow box.

The album ends on a a somber note with the final two tracks, “Heavy” and “Rapture Waltz”. The former is a short piano ballad about a lost soul and their longing to find their love again. It’s haunting in it’s sound and Manchild is his most vulnerable vocally on this track.

“Rapture Waltz” is the title track and final song off of the album. It’s also haunting, but not in a sad way. Like the title says, the world is ending around Manchild in this song. It’s very atmospheric and slowly builds to a beautiful crescendo. It’s a phenomenal album closer, literally ending the album with the lyrics, “it’s all gone away; you get what you take. Inside out upside down. Every sign, every sound. Even if I wanted it, I couldn’t get control of it. It’s over.”

Overall, Rapture Waltz is another fantastic album to add to the growing catalog of the Poor Bastards. On paper, it’s their shortest with 11 tracks over 41 minutes. But even though these tracks are shorter for JMPB, they’re jam packed with instrumentals and vocals. The angst and paranoia from this album is Manchild at his most relatable. This is an album that I’m going to be replaying a lot this year. For me, this is one of the best albums of 2024. Each song is vastly different, leading to a memorable and highly replayable album. For me, this album is a 9/10.

Favorite tracks: “Fake Me Out” ; “Better Unsaid” ; “Beyond Me” ; “Rapture Waltz”

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