Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s deconstruction of blues, garage, punk, funk and hip hop may seem tongue-in-cheek but their music has developed its own authentic identity. The tight-knit trio of Jon Spencer, Judah Bauer and Russell Simins jam with precision, as Spencer’s grunting and yelping overlays a ferocious assault of riffs and grooves like nobody else. Their material from the ’90s may have been more subversively experimental, but after almost 25 years in the business they still sure know how to rattle some bones.
JSBX feel revivified on their 10th studio album, an unabashed tribute to their hometown of New York City. “Freedom Tower” was the unofficial name for what became One World Trade Center, while “No Wave” is a reference to the underground music/film/art scene in New York in the late ’70s and ’80s. Capturing a sense of the raucous, in-yer-face energy of the city that never sleeps, and displaying some of the disparate musical influences of this multicultural melting pot, the album was recorded at the Daptone House of Soul in Brooklyn and mixed by the former hip-hop Dälek producer Alap Momin.
Spencer’s exhortation “Come on fellas, we gotta pay respect” (presumably to NYC) leads into opening track Funeral, a most un-funereal explosion of sound that sets the tone for the rest of the album. Wax Dummy’s pounding beats back the claim that “There’s a brand new dance that’s going around”, while the detonating bass lines of Do The Get Down propel “the funkiest man alive”, as police sirens scream in the background. The trashy rock’n’roll of Betty vs. The NYPD is like the New York Dolls on acid.
White Jesus and Born Bad also tear along at full throttle, but Down And Out has a more soulful vibe, as Spencer proclaims ambiguously, “This is America baby / We ain’t got no class”. In Crossroad Hop he urges, “Dance, dance, let’s do it”, as the pace quickens. The Ballad Of Joe Buck may be an allusion to Jon Voight’s drifter character in the classic 1969 New York movie Midnight Cowboy.
The garage-rocking Dial Up Doll gives way to the driving blues of Bellevue Baby. Preceded by fans reminiscing about the music scene of the nineties, Tales of Old New York: The Rock Box name checks the iconic NYC punk venue CBGB, and closing track Cooking For Television seems like a cross-section of the different styles featured on a satisfyingly down and dirty album that works up a sweat reeking of the Big Apple.