Album Reviews

The Von Bondies – Pawn Shoppe Heart

(Sire) UK release date: 9 February 2004

The Von Bondies - Pawn Shoppe Heart Another day, another “The” band. The Von Bondies may be on their second studio album but they may as well be hyped-up newbies for the step-change in column inches bearing their name at the moment.

The cause of this new-found publicity? Well, a certain Jack White added his production Stripes to their debut, frontman Jason Stollsteimer decided very publicly that, in retrospect, he didn’t like the sound (possibly when not many people bought it), and a few weeks ago White and Stollsteimer engaged in some erstwhile pugilism at a gig. Stick to the day jobs, lads…

If Stollsteimer wanted to ensure that the new album would banish any accusations of The Von Bondies being mere White Stripes-lite then getting former Talking Heads man Jerry Harrison as producer was a good start, especially given that he’s the man responsible for knob-twiddling on such heavy rock masterpieces as Live‘s Throwing Copper.

And it seems to have worked because there’s no way in a Detroit rain shower that Pawn Shoppe Heart could be dismissed as lite. After the de rigeur feedback intro, No Regrets fair leaps out of the speakers with swaggering “ah-ah-ahs” and some stomping glam rock riffs that scream, “T-Rex!” very loudly indeed.

If No Regrets indicates that The Von Bondies are here to strut, gyrate their hips and snarl in your face, then following track Broken Man is the middle finger last word. The bass has the most extreme super-fuzz heard since Mudhoney had their 15 minutes of fame, while the song rollicks along with punk attitude and a heavy dose of The Stooges.

Current single, the raucous but radio-friendly C’mon C’mon, sees producer Harrison’s ability to draw out the important tenets of a song – to make things sound majestic but not bombastic – utilised to best effect. Tell Me What You See is just as adrenalised and upbeat as its three predecessors, but in a more ’60s blues and soul-soaked kind of way, while Been Swank does exactly what it promises with some impressive drumming from Don Blum (as on the whole album) and suitably histrionic guitars.

Five songs down and we haven’t even clocked 12 minutes. You’ll feel the need to catch your breath, I promise you, and Stollsteimer and co oblige with Mairead, which is very bluesy and features echoey vocals that sound like they were recorded in a cathedral, thus adding to the eerie but grand atmosphere of it all.

Having said that, this band is at its best when it doesn’t think too much, and the attention definitely wavered after, ooh, three and a half minutes of Mairead. Good job then that bassist Carrie Smith’s female vocals are there to make you prick up your ears on Not That Social and Crawl Through The Darkness.

The Fever is a sassy, rhythm-led burst that almost makes you tired listening to it (I kid you not), such is its energy level, while The Doors-esque Right Of Way, the straightforward three-chord rush of Poison Ivy and the distorted blues pastiche of the title track (complete with secret extra bit) round things off in sterling fashion.

No doubt, Stollsteimer would love it if the only comparison that was made of Pawn Shoppe Heart to The White Stripes’ Elephant was that this is better. Frankly dear, we don’t give a damn about that. It’s good enough and that’s all that matters.

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