Firstly, let's just clear up Giordano Bruno's review below: Daniel Johnston has Bi Polar disorder, not Downes Syndrome. His condition has been both the source of much pain and negativity in his life, and the spark of his genius; without it, he would simply not be Daniel Johnston. I do agree that this album is probably the best place to begin your journey of exploration . Some of his best songs were recorded on the original cassette albums (now available on CD) and have never been recorded by him with a proper producer in a fully equipped studio and It can be difficult to hear the melodic genius beneath the lo fi tape hiss. Here for the first time he gets the full indie production number and it really does bring out the songs in all of their power and erratic glory. So yeh, start here, move on to Reject Unknown, try out Kathy Mcarty 'Dead Do's Eyeball' (brilliant cover version's of the best of those early songs), and then, once you have become fully attuned, check out Yip Jump Music , Songs of Pain and the rest of the early stuff. You may also want to look at the 'Devil and ...' DVD. Once you 'get' Daniel then he will be a source of pleasure and awe for life.
I only heard about Daniel Johnston a month or so ago when a friend of mine told me about 'this great musician who has Down Syndrome'. Sold immediately on the premise, I approached my first experience with the California native looking for at least a good laugh; lo and behold, my admittedly-immature disposition was rocked by the startling revelation: this guy is good!
'Fun' marked the major label debut for Johnston, released in 1994, and the improved production (helmed by Butthole Surfer's very own Paul Leary) is on show immediately with the fun Beatles-esque 'Love Wheel'. Yes, the lyrics (continued throughout the album) are simplistic, forced and often cliched, but that's the charm of Johnston; how many mentaloids do you know that can write a decent chorus, anyway?
Love intertwines with fun throughout the album, as it does with every Johnston release, and few songs display this more successfully than the beautiful 'Mind Contorted', a sad-yet-sweet love song once again directed towards the girl who continues to elude him; positive as the lyrics may often point towards, one can only feel a sense of sadness that the 'you' Johnston constantly refers to will never look past his physical deformities and open herself to the Johnston his listeners have fell in love with.
Fans of Johnston will be aware that along with the subject of love, sci-fi has retained itself as a primary topic for the American with his every release. This is evident in many of songs on the album, and is unfortunately to the detriment of the collective. Contrived lyrics can be excused by his mental disabilities; meandering, nonsensical sci-fi rubbish can't. Playing the album to my dad the other day, he seemed to be enjoying the catchy, simplistic nature of the opening tracks until 'Jelly Beans' began and he uttered 'is this guy retarded? Turn this **** off.' Producer Leary's only failure is reigning in Johnston's erratic decision-making with regards to these songs, as it is apparent they will likely turn off a number of potential listeners who may initially be won over by his niche disability.
Thankfully the album ends on stomping form, further displaying Johnston's Beatles influences with the brilliant 'My Little Girl' and the barn-storming 'Rock & Roll/Ega'; never before had fans heard Johnston sound so good.
Possibly my second favourite album from Johnston ('Lost and Found' my number 1), this is a great start for the uninitiated. While many may be won over by his Down Syndrome disease, NOBODY will walk away still thinking so negatively about said people. It is simply impossible not to fall in love with Daniel Johnston.
One can only hope that elusive-lady soon joins us.