Freedy Johnston – “Neon Repairman” (Stereogum Premiere)

In 1995 Rolling Stone named Freedy Johnston Songwriter of the Year, tapping him over Kurt Cobain, who they slated for the number two slot that year. Titles like that are always a bit arbitrary, but the contrast between Johnston and Cobain has sharpened further over the last 20 years. Cobain continues to haunt headlines and Nirvana has been ushered into the upper echelons of our ever-evolving canon, but Johnston has been steadily plugging away at his craft. His 1994 album This Perfect World remains the major impetus for Rolling Stone’s distinction — and Scott cites it as one of the best albums from that entire year — but the newly-announced Neon Repairman might rival that classic.

Today we’re premiering “Neon Repairman,” the title track and lead single. Ostensibly a song about a late-night handyman, the song doubles as an homage to Glenn Campbell’s “Wichita Lineman” (written by Jimmy Webb) — one that Johnston has covered himself over the years. In an interview, Johnston said he used Webb’s song as a template that he “traced over.” He lifted one of the song’s lines too in knowing tribute: “And I need you more than want you, as the story goes.” But Johnston also sent an early version of the song to Webb, who gave his blessing and anointed “Neon Repairman” as a great song.

As far as romanticizing oddball blue collar jobs, a man works all night to replace the colorful lights that guide us toward late night havens is an easy sell — to conceive of that character in the first place is the hard part. Johnston has the ability to construct entire ecosystems and narratives out of this kind of working class ephemera, and that’s what makes him a singular songwriter. Listen to the lonely, chiming track below and check out the tracklist for his full album, which is out in June.

Here’s the Neon Repairman tracklist:

01 “Neon Repairman”
02 “Baby, Baby Come Home”
03 “TV in My Arms”
04 “Summer Clothes”
05 “By the Broke Streetlight”
06 “The First to Leave the World, Is the First to See the World”
07 “Angeline”
08 “The Sentimental Heart”
09 “Her Hair Is Blowing in the Wind of Another Planet”
10 “A Little Bit of Somethin’ Wrong”

Neon Repairman is out 6/25. Pre-order it here.