by Donny Doane
First things first for the purists out there—Blues Explosion are not a blues band. They’re a rock band. But we already knew that. Here follow but two fundamental differences between blues and rock: One could never accuse the real folks making the blues of being grandiose. Neither the subject matter nor the rendered product comes close. In fact, it’s quite the opposite. The blues are about facing adversity with the underdog strength of humility.
[Note: Blues Explosion was scheduled to play on Thu., Nov. 4, at First Avenue with the Ponys, but as you may know, First Avenue has filed for bankruptcy and will be temporarily closed. They have rescheduled to play on Thu., Nov. 4, at the 400 Bar. Early show, 5 p.m. 18 +. $15. 400 Cedar Ave., Mpls. 612-332-2903.
Rock ’n’ roll, however, is all about narcissistic cock-swagger,
and there’s no finer example than Damage (Sanctuary), Blues Explosion’s
latest detonation of attitude. If you’re a fan, you’ve already accepted
this as part of the package, anyway. Fortunately, the band’s accomplishment
is closely proportional to its attitude, as the latest is arguably their strongest
since 1994’s Orange. And as you might notice, the words Jon Spencer
(the band’s spastic frontman) no longer precede the B.X. It’s simply
Blues Explosion, now.
was something that he [Jon Spencer] actually suggested that just seemed to make
sense, and it’s probably something that made sense for awhile, but now
we finally decided to do it,” explains drummer Russell Simins via telephone
while in Barcelona, Spain.
I mention that must be nice as opposed to being in So and So and the Somebodies.
“Well it depends,” he continues, “if that’s the kind
of band it is. And we are that kind of band. It’s very democratic and
we all write music together.”
That’s pretty cool of Spencer—I’d even go so far as to say
humble, but that thought of modesty doesn’t last long. By the time we
hear the first lines of the opening title track, “Get out your calculator
slide-rule/ No matter which you fold or bend or turn/ Well, you ain’t
never gonna top us/ Ain’t never gonna beat us/ Can you dig my band?”,
we should know we’re in for a heady, sweaty and ever self-aggrandizing
Anyway, Damage is impressive due not only to its sonic revelry, but also
the fact that it was recorded in five different studios with almost as many
producers, yet sounds seamless betraying none of its splintered birthing process.
And while not quite sprawling, it does stretch out rather comfortably to cover
a wide range of musical topography.
“I think it’s less of a straight ahead rock ’n’ roll
record and more of a cross-section of what we’re all about in terms of
covering the ‘out there’ stuff as well as the hard, funky rock stuff,”
Owning a definite King Snake slither, the Blues Explosion’s home base
doesn’t lie in the bayou, but rather the Jersey swamps, where inside their
ramshackle abode, they’ve judiciously stocked the pantry with something
for mama, papa and baby-bear, as well as their flaxen-tressed trespasser.
“Burn It Off” is a straight-up rock number that sears and sizzles
like a bare leg against a Harley’s tailpipe after a long ride. The dual
guitars of Spencer and Judah Bauer play out like a dialogue between a hungry
dog and a pissed off cobra. Simins’ neck-snapping attack makes one wonder
if he wears lead wristbands, and I think I can actually hear the activator (sweet
hair) pelting his kit like a hard glycerin rain as he pounds away. Finally,
the gang vocal chorus proves that the Beastie Boys’ “Whoooaaa!”
still gets plenty of mileage nearly twenty years after the fact.
Between blowhard bravado and gross grandiosity, there exists little room for
subtlety. “Spoiled,” however, raises the bar by lowering both the
volume and strut factor. Spencer sounds like Bowie or Iggy floating over a trippy
Pink Floyd Ummagumma psyche-fest with acoustic guitar and densely layered studio
tomfoolery. With her cherubic vocals, Martina Topley-Bird (Meters) plays foil
to Spencer’s low estrous croon. This woozy duet might not be Zep’s
“Battle of Evermore,” but it does succeed nicely with a far out
and fantastic feel.
“You Been My Baby,” Topley-Bird soars again. The song makes me think
of John Lennon’s “How Do You Sleep?” with a maelstrom of female
back-ups reminiscent of Floyd’s “Great Gig in the Sky,” only
to give way to Jesus Lizard-like guitar run. Things even get socially conscious
with Public Enemy badass Chuck D. backing up Spencer in the protest song “Hot
But enough of the esoteric and back to the pelvic. In it’s entirety, Damage
earns a thumbs up as a worthy soundtrack to a good boom-boom session, with the
hard thrusting “Mars, Arizona” easily being the king hell fuck tune
here. The rising, falling, push and shove of the twin guitars heave and breathe
heavily like two iron lungs makin’ wit’ da luv. And any song that
joyously employs the word “stink” four times within three seconds
also earns my humble nod.
To their credit, this new batch of booya is a brow wiping, nic-fit inducing
set which has already won the approval of several after-bar dance parties. With
Damage, Blues Explosion sets out to prove (to at least their fans and
themselves) that they still sit comfortably as King Shit atop the fetid rock
‘n’ roll dunghill. History has shown that this can be a fickle,
transitory place to be, and only history will tell whether the band will experience
any backlash from streamlining their name.
But as long as B.E. is staying in places like the Hilton in Barcelona as opposed
to the coziness of an Econoline van they shouldn’t bitch much—at
least not as much as I could bitch about having to call them in Spain. ||
Blues Explosion was scheduled to play on Thu., Nov. 4, at First Avenue with the Ponys, but as you know First Avenue has filed for bankruptcy and will be temporarily closed. They have rescheduled to play on Thu., Nov. 4, at the 400 Bar. Early show, 5 p.m. 18 +. $15. 400 Cedar Ave., Mpls. 612-332-2903. .
Check out Blues Explosion on their record label’s official website.