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The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - Plastic Fang
Review by Daniel Schulman

Nobody 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.

--Daniel Schulman



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