Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – [Album]

Saturday, 29 May 2010

By the time the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion even started to think about making Now I Got Worry – what would be their fourth domestically released studio album – they had already tread pretty far from their beginnings as a Pussy Galore-d, pigfuck-ed, dirty shirt rock n' roll band. JSBX' self-titled debut successfully finished out the train of thought that Spencer had started with Pussy Galore on Right Now! In 1986; Extra Width had polished up the rough edges of the band and streamlined the song structures so they were easy to follow and Orange took that so much further that the album more closely resembled a sideways soul excursion than a blues explosion. With three records already on the books, it was perfectly reasonable to assume that JSBX was starting to straighten up, fly right and be a presentable rock n' roll band.

Jon Spencer, guitarist Judah Bauer and drummer Russell Simins could clearly not abide that notion and so, in one bold and defiant gesture, they threw their much-refined chops into the most fetid gutter in Memphis and then let them steep a little – only taking them out of the mire right before they walked into Easley Studio – so they were still dripping when the band started to record Now I Got Worry.

The results are phenomenal. “Skunk” doesn't just kick the doors open on the record, it rends then clean off the hinges as, with a shriek instead of a whisper, JSBX sounds its return to basics in no uncertain terms.

Now, this album is certainly a return, but it definitely a post-modern one. Now I Got Worry gets back to the heart of rock n' roll, but concedes that the heart ain't what it used to be; the excess that the genre had enjoyed since the 1950s had taken its toll after punk, dub, indie rock, No Wave and pig fuck had been passed through it, and the congestion (if one listens to some of the other music in circulation around 1996) was apparent. What Now I Got Worry does is flush all of that residual shit out of rock's system and throw it all up on a canvas to examine the godawful mess it is. Listeners can note a coagulation of No Wave (a la Lydia Lunch and Birthday Party) in “Skunk” and “Identify” as well as some loose and tattered remains of The Stooges, Beat Happening and Einsturzende Neubauten in “Fuck Shit Up” all congealed together with the last creative blood of Elvis Presley and Little Richard and then handled with care to listeners for them to explore. It sounds gruesome and terrifying in print, but it is also incredibly captivating; in each case, the slime always gels together and gives listeners some ambrosia as a reward in the form of songs like “Wail,” “Chicken Dog,” “Rocketship,” “Eyeballin” and R.L. Got Soul.” In those songs, Judah Bauer's Telecaster scrawls out lines that are equal parts Chet Atkins, Willie Horton and Poison Ivy and seem determined to set listeners' ears on fire while Russell Simins' drums tenderize their guts – it's a powerful and incendiary arrangement. That performance alone could leave listeners begging to go back and wallow in the stylistic bog over and over again, but Spencer himself takes the whole thing to whole other plain. At the beginning of each track, listeners don't know whether they're going to be mauled or soothed by the singer as, by turns, he shrieks, bellows, blares, croons and roars out scatological incantations that include both classic (“You-you-you got to help me”) and contemporary pastiches of Twentieth Century musical themes (like “You know why?/It sounds real good/Quit my cause baby/Quit our fallin'/Who the hell works?/Look in, open up yourself/Poke your head around”). When they're placed next to each other as they are on Now I Got Worry, the notion of anything being genuine or authentic ceases to have any meaning at all and, really, is relegated to the province of irrelevance anyway. In this case, listeners just get caught hook, line and sinker by the intoxicating acts of swaggering, delirious and polluted glamor. Now I Got Worry may be called a mess, but it is a glorious and divine on.

Fourteen years after JSBX first smashed listeners over the head with Now I Got Worry, Jon Spencer has revisited the album and, with the benefit of hindsight, has remixed and remastered the album and appended some extra tracks thought to be lost to the bulk tape eraser. Now, while, still filthy and potent as fuck, the singer has altered the fabric of the songs ever so slightly so that every part of them punches through a little harder, and listeners are able to differentiate each part cleanly; in effect, while the mire is still evident, listeners are able to pick out every edge and corner but the overall differences, while very subtle, do improve the overall flow and aesthetic of the record. That, in and of itself, is very cool  and longtime fans will find value in it, but they'll rush to check out the dozen bonus tracks appended to the run-time as well as the four radio ads recorded to promote the album's original release. In listening to the extra tracks, it becomes apparent that JSBX had more irons in the fire in '96 that may not have made it onto the album, but would get further exploration on future releases. While the aborted dance craze “Let's Smurf” and the very brief instrumental “Buscemi” understandably arrived on the cutting room floor, both “Cool Vee” (a tribute to Tesco perhaps?) and the instrumental “Fish Sauce” foreshadow the more experimental soul of Acme while both “Yellow Eyes,” “Get With It” and “Turn Up Greene” play like long-forgotten test runs for what would eventually become the base for Heavy Trash.

While each of the unreleased tracks ventures no lower in quality than decent, it's easy to understand why they didn't make the original run-time of Now I Got Worry, they didn't fit the vibe that the band was trying to set for the album. Where the album was uniformly hard and scuzzy, these unreleased tracks allow for greater possibilities and that just wouldn't fly on this album. That said, it's good to finally hear them getting some air on this deluxe release; here, they do have a rightful place as peripheral vision to hindsight. With that expanded view, listeners are afforded the clue that a tremendous amount of work went into the overall design of any Jon Spencer Blues Explosion album; this proves that the show was the thing and making a seamless presentation of that for audiences was important to the band. With the heat off now, so many years later, it's cool that Spencer and the band are brave enough to see some of the stray sparks that flew off as well as illustrate why things were set up the way they were.


Further Reading:

Ground Control's interview with Jon Spencer 2010.

Ground Control's review of Dirty Shirt Rock 'N' Roll.

Ground Control – Hey Rotate This Volume 015


The Deluxe Edition of Now I Got Worry is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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