After eight years out, the Blues Explosion slip their bellbottoms back on.
Stevie Chick 2012-09-21
When the re-release of their back catalogue a few years back invited listeners to cast a critical eye over the oeuvre of The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, it was hard not to conclude that, fine though their latter-day dalliances with the more traditional end of blues songwriting were, they weren’t as thrilling as the band’s chaotic mid-90s peak. They were still good. But they had been great.
After eight years’ hiatus from the studio, the trio returns on feral form, with a set of fierce gutbucket groove, wiring Delta riffs full of dirty New York City electricity. As Spencer confesses on the shuffle of Bottle Baby, he’s “Got the blues again, gonna drive it way back to the start / Goin’ home, goin’ deep, comin’ straight from the heart.” Meat + Bone returns to the fevered noise of the Explosion’s earlier days, tempos back at full pelt, drummer Russell Simins let off the leash.
Meat + Bone operates with the same lean, restless energy JSBX always display in concert: at their best, no band sounds this alive, unable to sit still for a second. Here, songs are strafed by blasts of electric noise; sweat-beaded blues riffs switch up to punk freak-outs, then break into molten, skeletal funk. Spencer feeds his vocals through enough slapback reverb to leave him sounding like a 10-feet-tall greaser god, with the blues.
The sound returns to the classic Blues Explosion structure: just two guitars, drums, vocals and noisemakers. But they do so much with it, the sinful Get Your Pants Off lustily chasing an itchy J.B.’s rut, and Strange Baby switching from junk-shop shuffle to a juke-joint stomp lacerated by bottle-slide guitar scream. Boot Cut boasts chain gang chants, Theremin blitzes and a riff that could soundtrack a Starsky & Hutch car chase, and Black Thoughts dispatches a nasty case of the blues with lairy Stooges raunch and booming bad-mood sermonising from Spencer.
“Too many squares / Too much mediocrity,” Spencer grumbles, on Bag of Bones, and he’s right. But the Blues Explosion are back, and they’re more Explosion than Blues again. So light the touch-paper and step back.