Jon Spencer Blues Explosion


Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Orange ©1994 Matador Records
1. Bellbottoms
2. Ditch
3. Dang
4. Very Rare
5. Sweat
6. Cowboy
7. Orange
8. Brenda
9. Dissect
10. Blues X Man
11. Full Grown
12. Flavor
13. Greyhound

This guy I used to work with worshipped the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. He was a one man PR workshop, constantly touting the virtues of the band's rock'n'roll animal approach. Skip ahead four years and I finally get around to listening to the Blues Explosion with what my former co-worker describes as their best record: Orange. Quite frankly it is a good time and definitely in the realm of rock'n'roll animals.

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion has its roots in Pussy Galore and other New York trash bands, but has taken their sound into a more grooving, butt shaking area. Jon Spencer leads the band with a nearly Elvis like charisma and a voice that harkens a slightly different era. There is a tendency to throw noise experimentalism into the music, but not to the point where it completely and totally overshadows the actual song. Bonus point for that. The band is able to go from fully racous material to more restrained stuff such as "Very Rare", which has a touch of Tortoise to it. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion covers a lot of ground in a short amount of time, from a blues edge to groove oriented rock to a modernistic deconstructionalistic (is that a word?) guitar approach that tears down the expected sound of the instrument. All in all Orange is a rowdy good time.

Review by John Chedsey

Review date: 03/2000

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Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Acme ©1998 Matador Records
1. Calvin
2. Magical Colors
3. Do You Wanna Get Heavy?
4. High Gear
5. Talk About The Blues
6. I Wanna Make It All Right
7. Lovin' Machine
8. Bernie
9. Blue Green Olga
10. Give Me A Chance
11. Desperate
12. Torture
13. Attack

The Blues Explosion boys certainly can't be blamed for being stuck in a rut. After their big breakthrough with the awesome Orange, they went and made the almost lo-fi and at times danged noisy Now I Got Worry. So what do they do now? Why, turn the other way 'round and make one slick, almost over-produced slab of rock'n'roll of course. To make sure people aren't getting confused by the band's name, Jon Spencer makes sure to proclaim that "I do not play no blues, I play rock'n'roll!" And hell yes, that's just what they do.

There's a lot of influences here, a lot of 70s funk giving that hip-hop vibe to some of the songs, there's bluesy riffs, there's furious rock-songs, and there's a few ballads - done Blues Explosion style of course. Hell, "Do you wanna get heavy?" is practically R'n'B. The band is tight as ever, with the focus turned more on Russel Simins drumming than on guitars, and on hiney-shaking grooves instead of noisy deconstruction. Though you will find some hints of their earliest releases popping by at times, like the riffing in "Bernie," and the direct attack of...well; "Attack.", the latter being a remake of an old jammy drum-based song, now having some insanely cool turntable-scratching adding textures, and furious guitars slashing through your speakers. Talk about ending the album with a blast!

The album varies a lot, both style-wise and soundwise. Most of the songs drive up the bass quite a bit, focusing in on the groove. The mixing and recording list reads like a "who's who" of indie-rock, all the bigshots seem to be there from Steve Albini, to Calvin Johnson to Dan the Automator. This results in the album feeling a bit disjointed, but after a few listens one get used to it. There's no downright bad tracks on here, but "Blue green Olga" and "Lovin' machine" aren't quite up to par with the rest of the material on offer. And in good rock'n'roll tradition, the lyrics truly suck! But it's not like anyone cares.

Originally I was a mite disappointed in this album, but over subsequent listens it grew to be quite a fine album. It's not quite up there with the brilliant Orange or Extra Width, but it's certainly not far behind. If you're looking for an album that you can delve into and truly explore for hours and end you'll love Gentle Giant's Octopus. If you'd rather just pick up an album that you can tap your feet to and perchance do the "rock out" thing to, this should prove a very worthwhile purchase.

Review by Řystein H-O

Review date: 03/2001

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Plastic Fang

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Plastic Fang ©2002 Mute
1. Sweet'n'sour
2. She Said
3. Money Rock'n'roll
4. Killer Wolf
5. Tore Up & Broke
6. Hold On
7. Down In The Beast
8. Shakin' Rock'n'roll Tonight
9. The Midnight Creep
10. Over And Over
11. Mother Nature
12. Mean Heart

JSBX return, a little older and just as dumb as ever. Four years have passed and not a single new trick has been added to their book. Not that this surprises anyone, but geez, couldn't they have tried something new to try to save this recording from being everything rock'n'roll shouldn't be? Namely pleasant and about as exciting as Nancy cartoons. Sure, they have the same traits as always: Jon yelling about rock'n'roll, booze, women, and, uhh, werewolves. Russel Simins smack around with all sorts of fairly neat, groovy drumbeats, and Jon and Judah let those at times really cool guitar lines fly all over the place, or at least over the pentatonic place. But while this used to be very enjoyable, despite itself, it now sounds just as boring as you might expect.

Unfortunately these songs don't seem to have much nerve and the hooks never seem quite as strong as on anything they did in the past. I'll take the simplistic to the point of self parody "Write a song" any day over any of the much fancier, yet ever so tedious material on this album.

I suppose it's ironical, that such a retro-minded band have finally come to the point where only their older albums are worth listening to. And before anyone blames me for being stuck in the past, you might as well point that finger at the ol' Blues Explosion. Sure, a band doesn't have to be the world's most original to be worthwhile, but some effort is still required. The only positive points I can find to the album, aside from the occationally neat guitar bit or drumbeat, is the great production, which manages to purvey that "live" feeling which can be essential to rock albums. But that sure isn't enough to save what is basically the musical equivalent of "Teen Wolf".

Don't bother with this, get Oblivians' classic Soul Food instead.

Review by Řystein H-O

Review date: 07/2002

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