Guitar Wolf Is Still Loud and Fast and Hungry in 'Love and Jett'
Guitar Wolf, Japan's answer to the Ramones, has proudly kept their shtick going for 32 years, and the ravenous pack doesn't let up in their latest, Love and Jett.
Love and Jett
5 May 2019Other
Japan's Guitar Wolf has been around since the mid-'80s, and their shtick has never changed. They position themselves to be their country's answer to the Ramones and they pull it off. They take the stage in leather jackets and sunglasses, play a super-loud mixture of punk, garage rock, and rockabilly they call "Jet Rock". The trio refers to themselves as Guitar Wolf (Seiji), Bass Wolf (Gotz, who is actually the band's fourth bassist), and Drum Wolf (Tóru). The Ramones lasted 22 years and released 14 studio albums, while Guitar Wolf is on year 32 and Love and Jett is their 13th record.
I first encountered the band via a screening of their zombie-alien action-comedy-horror movie Wild Zero (Tetsuro Takeuchi, 1999) sometime after midnight at an anime convention in the early '00s. It was a perfect setting to experience that insane piece of filmmaking and the music of the band itself. In contrast, my second experience with Guitar Wolf came in 2011 at Houston's Free Press Summerfest on a day when the temperature reached 105 degrees Fahrenheit (41˚C). The band took the stage in their leather jackets (although Drum Wolf shed his quickly) and played an amazing set of loud, fast music. I was surprised Guitar and Bass Wolf didn't collapse from heat exhaustion onstage. It was an amazing show.
PopMatters has discussed Guitar Wolf before (Rock 'n' Roll Etiquette, Golden Black, Loverock),but it's been a while. The band has a different bassist now, but everything else is essentially the same. Love and Jett is ten tracks of loud, simple songs, including one classic '60s rock cover. The album opens with the title track which, as is typical for the band, features an English language title, verses in Japanese, and a chorus in English. Over a simple kick-snare-kick-snare drumbeat, frontman Seiji sings in a surprisingly tuneful voice before shouting "Love and Jett!" in the chorus. Then there's some screaming and a pretty solid garage rock guitar solo. It's a little more melodic than usual for these guys, but they fix that with the next track.
"Sex Jaguar" begins with almost the same drumbeat but then Seiji comes in shouting "Jagar!" while Gotz does a jaguar roar. This time the lyrics are completely shouted, including the chorus, "Sex! / Sex! / Sex Jagar!" The song ends as it began, with more "Jagar"s and roars.
"Sci-Fi Brat" draws liberally from the Ramones end of the Guitar Wolf spectrum, with fast singing and simple melodic guitar, although the performance is so sloppy it sounds like the band recorded maybe it's third-ever run through of the song. That sloppiness resurfaces on the intentionally aggravating "Australopithecus Spark", which has a pretty fun musical groove, especially in the rhythm section, but is interrupted multiple times by the band grunting "Hoo-huh hoo-hoo-huh", caveman style, and not at all in unison. The marching "Planet of the Battera", sounds like The White Stripes if Jack White didn't care about recording quality at all. It features a very basic guitar riff, followed by the band shouting, "Battera!" and that is most of the song. It's one of the catchiest on the album.
The record's centerpiece is the band's cover of Spencer Davis Group's 1967 song "Gimme Some Lovin'" It's fast and noisy, with the guitar playing the iconic organ riff. Seiji's English language vocal performance is not that much less intelligible in the verses than Davis's original. Gotz's shouted attempt at the backing vocals on the chorus is extremely entertaining, as Seiji assaults his guitar with his pick for about ten seconds.
The songs in Love and Jett mostly follow the same template. "Girl Boss of Paris" is a little more composed and decidedly more mid-tempo than most Guitar Wolf tracks, with a sense of dynamics and a decent attempt from Seiji at crooning the verses. He returns to shouting on the chorus, of course, but I appreciated the change of pace, even if it's one of the less engaging songs on the album.
As if in response to that small variation, the next track, "Bowling in Takada-No-Baba" goes right back to the band's loud, overdriven sound, with the band all shouting "Bowling, bowling / Bowling, bowling in / Takada-No-Baba" at the top of their lungs. "Fireball Red Legend" is a straight up punk song, with an even faster speed and vocals that approach screaming. But it does give Gotz a chance to do some hyper-speed walking bass and show off some technical skill.
The album wraps up with "Mayumi the Untouchable", with a bright and simple guitar riff and shouting from Seiji that's clearly pushing beyond the limits of the studio microphone. Gotz again moves his bass along quickly while the distinctive sound of Tóru's deep snare drum slices, as always, through the din of guitar and bass noise to anchor the song.
That's it for Love and Jett. It's ten songs in 26 minutes with just enough variation to keep every song from sounding the same. It's tough to say whether this is a good record or not, as each Guitar Wolf album pretty closely resembles every other Guitar Wolf album. But listen to a song and decide for yourself; one track should be all you need to figure out if this band is for you.