Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – [Album]

Saturday, 29 May 2010

Every now and again, an urban myth comes true and the living, breathing, panting and screaming release/reissue of the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's Controversial Negro is proof of that. “Reissue?” you ask, “I thought it was a myth that this album even existed. I never saw a copy of it – and I looked – so I just assumed that someone telling me they had a copy of Controversial Negro was just the talk of an earnest, wannabe poseur.”

That's possible, but Controversial Negro – the only live album by the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – certainly exists and was released in 1997 but, there was little chance of getting a copy in North America unless you were willing to shell out the big bucks for an import.”

To clarify, for the last thirteen years, Controversial Negro went unreleased in North America – until 2010. In JSBX's new record deal with Majordomo/Shout Factory, Controversial Negro has finally seen domestic release and, keeping with the band's reissue campaign with the label, the album has been expanded to just over twice its original run-time, with the last nine tracks being culled from a separate show performed about twenty-five months earlier. In that, listeners are getting far more than they bargained for – they're getting two looks at one of the most sexually energized rock n' roll bands of their generation and proof that one show wasn't just a fluke; JSBX brought this kind of game every night they played.

Are you skeptical? Think all this talk is just exaggerated hyperbole? Author and sex mag legend Mike Edison (who is also responsible for the essay that graces the liners of both this album and Now I Got Worry) says it best:

Controversial Negro is the only record where you can hear the women in the audience dripping 40-weight on the floor.”

…And that action starts from note one, when Spencer doesn't ask his audience in Tuscon t “Get With It,” he commands them – and they're only too willing to comply.

Those that have seen JSBX live know what they're in for on Controversial Negro, but that doesn't mean they won't be glued to their stereo speakers for this; in fact, it just guarantees that they assumed that position as soon as they hit play on their stereos.

Jon Spencer, guitarist Judah Bauer and drummer Russell Simins take special care to ensure that there isn't a dry seat in the house as they bump, grind and burn (all at the same time) through the wildly carnal likes of “Can't Stop,” “Afro,” “Fuck Shit Up,” “Skunk” and the wild theremin meltdown “The Vacuum Of Loneliness” (where Spencer utters “Have you ever been lonely?” as an all-too-familiar come-on), but the singer removes all doubt in the bridge of “Blues X Man” when he erupts with:

“I'm talking about fucking!
Eating pussy!
Making love!!
Sucking cock!!!”

They may have been ten feel away from Spencer when he yelled it, but it's likely that at least a couple of women at The Hotel Congress came right then and there – from just the rumble that the singer's voice made through the speakers alone. And who can blame them?

The second show on the album has none of the same songs (the focus is more set on Orange and Experimental Remixes EP) but the exact same kind of presence is there as Spencer speaks, shrieks, wobbles and warbles his way through songs like “Bellbottoms” which Simins and Bauer seem to be playing at double time), the Chattanooga chug of “Flavor,” “Train #2,” “Train #3,” “Sweat” and “'78 Style” and leave the audience breathless at the pace they exact. The band seldom breaks between songs too – as they transition fluidly from song-to-song with an ease and grace that shouldn't be possible to have when a band is playing this hard. But they do – and the audience will if it feel s prove. First time for everything, I guess.

For long-time fans the appearance of Controversial Negro after thirteen years of domestic obscurity – is a thrill. Particularly if you haven't been able to catch JSBX live over the years, this album is an essential document because it illustrates just how good and seemingly tireless they can be; on this reissue lies the proof that, whenever JSBX is on stage, they are on full-tilt and they do not every look back.


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
Ground Control review of Now I Got Worry.


Controversial Negro
is out now. Buy it here on Amazon .

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