Music

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion: Plastic Fang

Scott Thill

Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

Plastic Fang

Label: Matador
US Release Date: 2002-04-09
UK Release Date: 2002-04-08
Amazon
iTunes

After a pretty lengthy hiatus, I'd like to say that the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion are finally ready to talk about the blues again, even if it's a particularly distorted brand of the genre, one recalling Exile-era Stones thankfully pumped as loud as possible through the shittiest speakers on God's green earth. Now for a related anecdote. "I don't play the blues, I play rock 'n' roll," Spencer enigmatically screeched while slamming Rolling Stone -- the slag mag not the group -- in "Talk About the Blues" on the band's last major release, Acme.

Yeah, yeah, I know the contradictions are emerging after only two sentences into the review. Welcome to the twisted world of the greatest blues band to never plays the blues. Kinda.

If you pull the disc out of the band's newest release, the oxymoronically titled Plastic Fang, and check the crimson-soaked pic beneath its place-holder, you'll get the idea of what to expect whenever you spin a JSBX nugget. There stands the shirtless, sweaty Spencer himself, jeans down far enough to show off his hairy ass crack, rocking the mike while Judah and Russell pump up the jam behind him. That's all you need ever think about when you think of the Blues Explosion: a refrigerator repairman's pants full of throbbing noise.

Forget the genres, as Spencer and Co. have, and please (please, please!) forget about lumping the JSBX in with the Strokes and the White Stripes as have countless publications -- from the L.A. Times to Amazon.com -- looking to make the near-flawless Matador label some extra cash. Concerned more with turning out callous-inducing, skin-tight jams than offering color-coordinated, lo-fi blues noise or digging up a CBGB past -- Bloomingdale's punk shirts and all -- that they, unlike the Strokes, were perhaps alive to witness, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion are interested in only one thing: rocking and not giving a shit what anyone else, especially themselves, calls it. If you're not a devotee yet, you don't need simulacra to clue you in to where the originals lie buried.

Especially since the JSBX are no originals themselves, and they'll probably be the first to admit it. Pilfering hardcore blues and rock 'n' roll hooks found everywhere from blues legend John Lee Hooker to punk vets X, the Blues Explosion has always carried a nuclear punch more in its re-presentation of everything that they've been banging through their stereos the last few decades than in original concepts they've spent years of their lives constructing. What has made them stand out over the fifteen or so years they've been destroying stages across America is a striking tightness and energy, whether it be in their kinetic musical synchronicity, their dry throat-inducing live shows, or their relentless riffing.

Witness the heat-seeking missile called "Money Rock 'N' Roll," Plastic Fang's best track by far, which sounds like it was lifted right out of Elvis Presley's grave with his bones still stuck to it. A thunderous stomp filled with dynamic tempo shifts, Spencer's best Bo Diddley rhyming, Bauer's precise but dirty riffing, and Russell Simins' frenetic pounding, the tune is a blistering no-frills jam whose only subject matter is -- you got it -- rocking.

That's usually the case for JSBX -- unless, as in the band's finest release, Orange, they're just singing about themselves. And the trend more or less continues throughout Plastic Fang. "Sweet and Sour", whose intro recalls Orange's immortal "Bell Bottoms", is a bracing toe-tapper that implores, "Won't ya rock 'n' roll?" Of course, louder than that sentence did. "Hold On" cruises over a similar bottom-soaked, static-filled funk, preceded by the sounds of barhoppers yapping and drinking as if the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion just hopped onstage at the local dive and started ripping shit up. And what a band. "Hold On" features the legendary Dr. John laying down some of his own meaty servings while Parliament Funkadelic alum, Bernie Worrell, adds the mesquite flavoring on the organ.

I'll have what they're having.

If Plastic Fang does carry a common denominator -- other than the desire to have a blast playing and listening to some of the most straight-ahead rock 'n' roll the way it was meant to be played -- it would be Spencer's continual reliance on the werewolf metaphor to explain everything from sexual infidelity to acknowledged guilt or wrongdoing. "I am the ugly one, a monster that feels no pain/I got a life without hope/Because I messed around with three young lives/Forgive me," he laments variously on "Killer Wolf", a song whose dark undertones betray a grievous injustice done to someone.

Same goes with "She Said", where Spencer links the werewolf specifically with infidelity: "She said you done your baby wrong and you know you're gonna die tonight/Now the villagers are coming with their pitchforks and their screaming dogs." There's plenty more to choose from; with titles like "Midnight Creep", "Mean Heart" -- remember where those bad wolves take their fatal silver bullets? -- "Down in the Beast", as well as artwork featuring B-movie or comic book monsters and damsels in distress. The JSBX has stumbled upon a potent motif for his songs about screwing around on the wife.

After all, where do you think the term "rock 'n' roll" came from?

Of course, you always have to take anything Spencer sings about with a grain of salt, or less. Mostly because the blues/rock genre's finest offering to mainstream music has always been such garish tales of love, er, I mean sexual urges gone wrong. Plus, the guy is married to alterna-babe Cristina Martinez of Boss Hogg and (kinda) Pussy Galore fame (both of which featured Spencer on guitar), so it's doubtful he's been running around behind her back. She'd outright kill his ass.

No, more likely than not, the JSBX hooked up with a veteran rock 'n' roll producer, Steve Jordan, who's helmed projects for Keith Richards and the Blues Brothers (!), and veteran rock 'n' roll imagery to help fashion this latest model of their no-holds-barred, traditional rock throwdowns. And, of course, everything's working fine. Although they've left the more fractured, splintered punk behind in favor of standard blues rock riffs, make no mistake about it, these wolves still have teeth, and they bite really hard.

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.


60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it.

It hardly needs to be said that the last 12 months haven't been everyone's favorite, but it does deserve to be noted that 2017 has been a remarkable year for shoegaze. If it were only for the re-raising of two central pillars of the initial scene it would still have been enough, but that wasn't even the half of it. Other longtime dreamers either reappeared or kept up their recent hot streaks, and a number of relative newcomers established their place in what has become one of the more robust rock subgenre subcultures out there.

Keep reading... Show less
Theatre

​'The Ferryman': Ephemeral Ideas, Eternal Tragedies

The current cast of The Ferryman in London's West End. Photo by Johan Persson. (Courtesy of The Corner Shop)

Staggeringly multi-layered, dangerously fast-paced and rich in characterizations, dialogue and context, Jez Butterworth's new hit about a family during the time of Ireland's the Troubles leaves the audience breathless, sweaty and tearful, in a nightmarish, dry-heaving haze.

"Vanishing. It's a powerful word, that"

Northern Ireland, Rural Derry, 1981, nighttime. The local ringleader of the Irish Republican Army gun-toting comrades ambushes a priest and tells him that the body of one Seamus Carney has been recovered. It is said that the man had spent a full ten years rotting in a bog. The IRA gunslinger, Muldoon, orders the priest to arrange for the Carney family not to utter a word of what had happened to the wretched man.

Keep reading... Show less
10

So far J. J. Abrams and Rian Johnson resemble children at play, remaking the films they fell in love with. As an audience, however, we desire a fuller experience.

As recently as the lackluster episodes I-III of the Star Wars saga, the embossed gold logo followed by scrolling prologue text was cause for excitement. In the approach to the release of any of the then new prequel installments, the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare, followed by the Lucas Film logo, teased one's impulsive excitement at a glimpse into the next installment's narrative. Then sat in the movie theatre on the anticipated day of release, the sight and sound of the Twentieth Century Fox fanfare signalled the end of fevered anticipation. Whatever happened to those times? For some of us, is it a product of youth in which age now denies us the ability to lose ourselves within such adolescent pleasure? There's no answer to this question -- only the realisation that this sensation is missing and it has been since the summer of 2005. Star Wars is now a movie to tick off your to-watch list, no longer a spark in the dreary reality of the everyday. The magic has disappeared… Star Wars is spiritually dead.

Keep reading... Show less
6

Ahead of Offa Rex's Newport Folk Festival set, Olivia Chaney talked about the collaboration with the Decemberists.

I was lucky enough to catch two of Offa Rex's performances this past summer, having been instantaneously won over by the lead single and title track from the record, The Queen of Hearts. The melodious harmonium intro on the track is so entrancing, I didn't want to miss their brief tour. The band had only scheduled a few dates due in part to other commitments and perhaps limited by their already busy schedules, the Decemberists are actively touring and had their own festival in the summer while and their friend, "sublime English vocalist" Olivia Chaney, had arrived from across the pond.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image