The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
- Plastic Fang
Review by Daniel Schulman
bloodies the blues like Jon Spencer and his Blues Explosion.
Over the years, the Blues Explosion has specialized in genre-bending
grit rock, drawing elements of soul, hip-hop, and punk,
and then dropping dingy blues lines into the spin cycle.
For better or worse, however, Plastic Fang is being pressed
as the band's stab at a straight-up rock 'n' roll record.
Plastic Fang finds Jon Spencer taking the Elvis impersonator
shtick to new levels -- not only resurrecting the spirit
of the King, but quite possibly believing he's the pelvis-shaking,
have mercy-saying man himself. Apparently, Spencer has also
taken on the King's legendary appetite. "Go ahead baby,
I'm gonna' stick my head in the gravy!" he bellows
on "The Midnight Creep."
Instead of looking to contemporary collaborators, as the
band has often done on prior albums, they reach into the
past and pluck out two unlikely recruits: Dr. John and Funkadelic
keyboardist Bernie Worrell. Although Warren Zevon is not
credited in the liner notes, his influence is unmistakable
on "Hold On," a frighteningly catchy knock-off
of "Werewolves of London."
The band's ninth studio album, steeped in mid-70s horror
flick kitsch, plays like a Scooby-Doo rerun: a mildly entertaining
diversion with an altogether unsurprising outcome. Despite
Spencer's efforts to loose the inner beast, Plastic Fang
does little to raise the dead or illustrate the band's supposed
rock 'n' roll transformation. The album is crawling with
werewolves, monsters, and the un-dead, but the songs lack
the unpredictable ferocity that has characterized Blues
Explosion's sound. Unlike many of the band's past albums,
Plastic Fang comes-off cagey, tamed by too much studio tinkering.
Producer Steve Jordan's cleaned-up, smoothed-out take on
the Blues Explosion makes about as much sense as dry cleaning
your favorite pair of Levi's.
Plastic Fang doesn't bite completely. "Mean Heart"
and "Mother Nature" pay impressive homage to the
strung-out blues popularized by the Rolling Stones. And
the single, "She Said," delivers a glimpse of
the combustible blues-alchemy that first made the Blues
Explosion pop back in the early 90s.
As usual though, the Blues Explosion is best observed outside
of captivity. Expect them to unleash the beast and lend
a jagged edge to Plastic Fang as they tour in support of
their new album this spring.