The cover of the new Jon Spencer Blues Explosion album has three images onit. One is a sketch of a fearful, wide-eyed woman, another a cartoon pictureof a werewolf, while dividing the two is a row of teeth, taken from an oldmagazine ad for a kids’ vampire kit.
The combination of these three and the title of the album, Plastic Fang,capture what the JSBX are all about here, a mix of cheeky childhood humourand comic book grotesquerie is underpinned by real horror. It’s all aboutmixing it up, the band’s inimitable sound being a fusion of blues, punk,funk, Elvis-style crooning and good old-fashioned rock’n'roll. In PlasticFang, we have the fight between the werewolf of rock’n'roll, and Spencer,the silent stranger with the silver bullet, the loner bitten by thelycanthrope and out for revenge. So, does the conflict between man and beastcreate great things?
Well, not really. The problem is that the rock’n'roll monster is toostrong, and the hunter simply never has a chance. Sweet’n'Sour provides agreat pulsating opener, but for the most part after that, it’s rock ‘n’roll, but we don’t really like it. The sound is far too aggressive, theguitars grinding and roaring, Spencer howling as the beast takes over hissoul. It’s sound like they’re all having a great time, but for the listenerit’s all too close to chaotic noise.
The album’s highlights undoubtedly are when we see the more vulnerable sideof the band. Mother Nature aside, this difference is detectable on thetracks where the band collaborate with guest artists. It’s as if, when theyhave to make music with other people, the band realise that maybe theyshould tone it down a bit. And that slightly more restrained sound is verymuch what saves the album.
Elliott Smith adds vocals, plus a definite tenderness, to Tore Up and Broke,while Dr John and Funkadelic‘s Bernie Worrell jam on the excellent Hold On,arguably the best track on the album.
While die-hard JSBX fans may well love every second of this, for the rest ofus Plastic Fang is very much a Jekyll and Hyde experience. But, if you cantolerate that noisy, rampaging Mr Hyde, the time with the more sensitiveJekyll is really rather enjoyable.