It’s records like this for which the word “scuzz” was invented. The Blues Explosion have been sitting in the attic gathering cobwebs and dust since 2004’s Damage, and instead of blowing them off, they’ve made an album out of them. It’s dirty and distorted like The Magnetic Fields‘ Distortion, it’s filthy in that way that sounds cheap but actually takes more money and skill than keeping it clean. Just assume that any comparison in this review is suffixed with the words “…except dirtier”.
No more Chuck D or Martina Topley-Bird guest spots. The funk influences that marked their ’90s albums have been all but wiped out. What we’re left with is a raw, primal beast of a record, equal measures punk, blues, and rock ‘n’ roll. It doesn’t quite sustain its initial impact all the way to the finishing line, but for a comeback album, it’s a big, bold reminder of their potency and potential.
Opener Black Mold sets out their philosophy in simple terms; music as disease, as danger, as a spreading infection. To bolster their argument, they corral a group of wayward geniuses from electronic music pioneer Milton Babbitt through to Little Richard, jazz drummer supreme Art Blakey, and even drugged-up baseball legend Lonnie Smith. It takes some chutzpah to place yourself as their natural heir, but the Blues Explosion just about pull it off with a tumbling blues lick and fuzzed-up bassline.
Except of course, it’s not a bassline (apologies if you have already composed an indignant correction in the comments box). It’s some tribute to the makers of this album that a bass-less band can produce such an extraordinarily potent low end – on the New York Dolls-esque Boot Cut, you could be forgiven for thinking Lemmy was along for the ride. It’s also accompanied with a succession of sci-fi bleeps and whistles, all produced organically, adding a vital third dimension to the basic set-up.
The start and middle of the album bristle with highlights. Ice Cream Killer has a catchy little strut of a riff tailor-made to put Jet and The Dandy Warhols in their place, and Bag Bones sounds exactly as good as a rejuvenated ZZ Top playing Fight For Your Right To Party should sound. The most punk moment comes with Danger, blues-rock riffs racing each other like Lies-era Guns N’ Roses, while Spencer hollers over it like the bloody revenge of Vic Reeves’ Shooting Stars pub singer.
There’s real variation in pace and feel, too. Get Your Pants Off is the funkiest cut on offer, a mostly-instrumental jam featuring the only “Blues Explosion” of the album and some incendiary soloing. Strange Baby takes the bassline from Stand By Me and mixes it up with spoken word vocals and a discordant guitar line, like a rootsy Les Savy Fav. Bottle Baby, meanwhile, is just effortless, taking on sleaze-preacher mode Nick Cave and outcooling Jack White with three simple words: “leave it alone”.
The record loses pace, focus, and quality control in the final four tracks, with only Bear Trap redeemed by a stately guitar hook. But for the most part, this is a fizzing, fuzzing album that manages to sound both younger and older than the band that produced it. And that’s what rock ‘n’ roll in the 21st century should be.