The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – NME: Acme [Review] / Blast Rites [2000 Words] (PRESS, UK)

17 October 1998 NME
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion - NME: Acme [Review] / Blast Rites [2000 Words] (PRESS, UK)
NME review of Acme and a 2000 word article on The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion titled ‘Blast Rites’.
“The Blues Muthas

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – Acme (Mute)

Awwwwlriggghty Momma!

Dontcha step on his fake snakeskin boots! Seven albums into his career as the maggot in winkle-pickers of the Big Apple, Jon Spencer is showing no signs of toning down his cat-skinning baadman Old Testament rock’n’roller act. There is an explosion, a shout of “Let’s have a party!” and the next audible phrase amongst the gruntin’, hollerin’, howlin’ Jerry Lee gone vocal whoopee-making is out Jon announcing, “I do not play blues, I play uh-rock’n’roll”. And indeed they uh-dop.

Spencer and his sidemen Judah Bauer and Russell Simins are a tribute to the spirit of a specific branch of Elvis-derived retro Americana which is far too comedic and pleased with itself to be lonesome. Theirs is a nasty-but-nice fork of the blues delta and, as the LP’s credit list confirms, it brings them plenty of friends. ‘Acme’ is produced by Steven Albini, features collaborations with revered US bluesist Calvin Johnson, avant hip-hoppist Dr Octagon, and Berlin noise loon Alec Empire, as well as cameos from members of Boss Hog and Luscious Jackson.

The party up there in the Chicago studios was clearly a good one – if you like rock’n’roll charades, that is. Albini has recorded it in appropriately bone-raw style, and there’s enough funk and hip-hop to allow Bauer to get away with a fair proportion of his mangled guitar jamming. For the most part they rattle along nicely, throwing Al Green-meets-Muddy Waters shapes on ‘Magical Colours’, leaning towards James Brown doo-wop on ‘Do You Wanna Get Heavy?’ and lurchin’ into guitar slamming overdrive for ‘High Gear’.

It’s an engaging soundtrack of liqour’n’dust’n’machismo, a kind of textbook Greil Marcus soundtrack, but the extent to which it relies on a wry appreciation of ’50s clichés shows through in the moments where they ditch the stylistic conservatism. The Alec Empire collision, ‘Attack’, is not much to get excited about, but ‘Lovin’ Machine’ is built on a magnificent, full-on hip-hop loop, and ‘Talk About The Blues’ is hugely powerful, thanks to its mangling of colossal beats, evil guitars and distorted neo-jungle basslines. At these successful departures from the Elvis impersonator with a flick-knife schtick, it’s hard not to wish that Spencer’s persona was less goodness gracious great balls of satire.

With a good deal of bourbon in your belly and plenty of Brylcreem on your sense of humour, this is a thoroughly enjoyable rock’n’roll record. Just don’t go near it ungreased. (7)

Roger Morton ”


“The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. They’re a blues band, right? Wrong! They’re the living, breathing embodiment of fizzing rock’n’roll. And soul. AND blues. And if you don’t believe us, just listen to their new album, ‘Acme’. Then get down on your knees and kiss their asses. Big band theory: Steven Wells (words) Eva Vermandel (photos).

The Atlantic wind roars in to be trapped by the rusted struts of Coney Island’s deserted roller-coasters. As it chokes and slowly sickens on the fetid hot dog and rotting onion fumes, it whines like a whipped dog. Like this, “Whooooooo! Whooooooo!”

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion dodge screaming seagull Stukas down guano slippery side-streets, where faded adverts for 1920s freak shows are picked out in 9mm dumdum slug-sized light sockets. The seek shelter in the stinking, littered backroom of the Yank equivalent of a seaside greasy spoon – a flyblown hot-dog emporium so oleaginous that even the air gives you acne. This is stone-cold rock’n’roll Americana, dude: Coney Island, home of ‘Rockaway Beach’ adn ‘Under The Boardwalk’; a slice of the American apple pie so cheesy, decayed and rancid it makes Blackpool feel like paradise on Prozac.

Drummer Russell Simins looks less like the long-haired, Easter Island statue-faced rock god who stared out moodily from the inner sleeve of ’94’s frenzied ‘Orange’ and more like a big-boned Brooklyn goodfella, capiche? But guitar anti-hero Judah Bauer still looks the same – sexy in a strung-out, skinny, straggly and slightly spotty sort of a way. And shy, self-effacing, puppy-faced top dog Jon Spencer, Jon Spencer, too (although it’s safe to assume that he’s still likely to turn into a bug-eyed, shite-spewing, fire-snorting ‘look at MEEEEEEEEE!’ sex-lion at the flick of an amp switch).

The Blues Explosion are an acquired taste, like anchovies, raw alcohol, olives, capers and paraffin wax candles. The ‘Blues’ bit is mostly bullshit. You’ll find chug-alug rockabilly drumming and prickly ’60s soul guitar riffs amongst the sloppy handclaps and airfisting gospel gobshittery, but precious little actual bona fide 100 per cent guaranteed gen-u-ine Missippi mud-oozin’ blooooooooze, dude.

Confusion reigns. One UK hack described the last Explosion album, ‘Now I Got Worry’, as, “The most incisive reinterpretation of Memphis tradition for a decade.” Ten pints of lukewarm dog toss! Think Eric Clapton and cringe! Like young Mr Spencer hollers on the shudderingly funky ‘Talk About The Blues’ (track five on the NEW Blues Explosion, LP, ‘Acme’), “Ah do not play no bloooooze! Ah play RAWK’N’RAWL!” So there.

In the US, this category confusion has led the lads being beaten savagely about the head with nail-studden brickbats by outraged (and utterly Mutton Jeff) guilty white liberals who see the JSBE as cold-blooded rapists of gen-u-ine black music. Imperialists! Expropriators! Vanilla Ice-style honky-wigga nigga-wannabe kultur kriminals! Hey, why not just join the Ku Klux Klan and cut out the middleman, you pigmentally challenged Nazi BASTARDS?!

“Er, it was the most stupid name I could think of,” drawls Jon through a gobful of festering dead cow, grease and rodent droppings, “I mean – what the fuck!? You know? We were just gonna have a good time! We were excited, like I said, it was a stupid name. It’s like calling your band Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds, y’know? And anyway, I figured we’re legends, we can do what we want…”

Yeah, so fuck YOU, you shit-brained, pipe-sucking, tree-hugging, vegetarian ANDROIDS! Did you ever consider calling yourselves The Jon Spencer Reggae Explosion?

“Er, no…”

Even the ‘Explosion’ needs qualifying. They might occasionally slice your skull off and scour your brain with an attack guitar Brillo pad but they ain’t not goddamn Groop Dogdrill. They ain’t no muthaf—in’ Rocket From The Crypt, Make-Up or Gold Blade. Oh no. Mostly the JSBE just fizz. Like a fuse. The Blues Explosion noise finds cinematic equivalency in the scene from The Fifth Element where the irresistibly heterosexual but utterly camp speed-freak DJ rants, babbles, jitters and gibbers his way through a 64-million dollar question and then whacks his spittle sticky mic in the face of heavy-lidded Bruce Willis who responds with a gruff, monosyllabic, dry-as-a-dog biscuit and totally anticlimactic “Yeah”. Hey, you want more salt on that candyfloss?

Those who still yearn for the Explosion to return to the exuberant ruff-as-fuck lo-fi howling, humping, sex-with-a-mad-dog daze of 1994’s ‘Extra Width’ are doomed to be disappointed by ‘Acme”s extended forays into the, uh, subtler joys of foreplay.

“Foreplay?” splutters greasy French fry-gobbed Russell suspiciously. “What do you mean?”

Well, you don’t start shagging our brains out until track seven or eight. The music grows like fungus on the reptile brain stem – luring the listener into a false sense of security – before it suddenly and savagely delivers a whole series of debilitatingly volcanic multiple orgasms.

“Well isn’t that what it’s all about?!” wonders Russell.

But you do have this reputation for being mindless fucking sex machines.

“We’d done the full-on shagging…” says Jon.

“And the next one’s going to be total non-stop shag action,” says Russell.

No plans to make a post-coital album, then?

“What would that be like?” wonders Jon.

A cuddly album.

“Some of ‘Acme’ is cuddly…”

Yeah, sure, but a sort of catching-your-breath sort of cuddly. A sort of let-me-have-a-fag-and-give-me-ten-minutes-and-I I’ll-be-ready-to-go-again-honest sort of cuddly.

“I’m sorry? You lost me…” admits Russell (You’re not the first, pal – Ed).

Hey, tough! We’re not going to dumb this down for drummers! Now, can we take it that you still regard Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis as the twin giants against which all wannabe rock’n’rollers must be measure?

“Yep!” woofs Jon.

“So why is Iggy Pop cool and Mick Jagger not?” ponders Russell, apropos bugger all.

Er, I dunno, why?

“I’m asking the questions here!”

OK! Um, is it because Mick Jagger sang ‘Street Fighting Man’ in the ’80s whilst flanked by giant inflatable cans of Budwiser?

“No, because ‘Search And Destroy’ was used in a Nike ad…”

OK, I give up. Why is Iggy cool and Mick not?

“I’m asking YOU!”

Well I’m asking YOU!

“Yeah!? Well, I’m asking YOU! If there was no Phil Collins there’d be no Beatles!” babbles Russell, insanely.

Do you think there should be a cultural police force, tooled up and trained to exterminate wussy bands with extreme prejudice?

“Shit, no!” says Russell, recoiling in horror. “That’s your job! Like Blur are the most popular band now because you guys say they are!”

But we are here to suck your cocks till our lips fray! All hail the Blues Explosion!

“You are fucking NOT!” bellows Russell.

Yes we fucking ARE!

“Yeah!?” sneers Russell. “So are we gonna be on the cover of NME? Are we? Huh?”

Uh, look, we LOVE the way you make a pre-emptive strike on legendary status, the way you stomp onstage and scream, “WE ARE LEGENDS!” very much like Manowar, with their brilliant ‘DEATH TO FALSE METAL!” slogan…

“You mean like when we walk onstage and go, ‘Blues Explosion! We’re NUMBER ONE!’?” asks Jon, “Yeah, well, we feel that way. I don’t know that I walk out and expect to be worshipped. I walk out and I’m gonna work as hard as I can to put on a good show and…”

Blah blah! Bollocks! What about when you walk onstage and say to the audience, and I quote, “You are here to get down on your knees and kiss my ass!”

“Ah, yeah, that sounds a bit arrogant but, uh, it’s not like I’m walking onstage and just going, ‘Brrrring! Kiss my ass!”

‘Come on, man!” growls Russell, “We need to put on a show. I’d be fucking bored, man, it’s boring just standing there – doo de doo de doo – we like to put on a show! I think we all like showmen, like music that really gets across to people, like all that kind of music, R&B, soul music. And that’s what is important to us and you just don’t see that. We don’t go out there and go, ‘We’re great and you SUCK!” It’s just that we have an attitude and we’re into what we’re doing. James Brown came out and put on a fucking show, man! But beyond the artifice and the showbizzyness, it was undeniably fucking moving…”

“You want artifice and you want attitude and you want legends,” claims Jon, “That’s why we play rock’n’roll! There’s a part of us that is really into the larger-than-life-legend – Jerry Lee Lewis, Little Richard – the out-of-control, crazy, rock’n’roll character, y’know, the entertainment side ofit…”

But is that cool? Cool these days means cultural constipation, a kind of artistic cowardice. Almost fear of enthusiasm. Whereas cool used to be synonymous with frothgobbed deviant extrovertism, it’s now been hijacked by ballsachingly conservative introverts. Energy is now considered uncool.

Enthusiasm is considered uncool. Everything you do is, by definition, uncool.

“I don’t think that’s what rock’n’roll is,” says Jon. “We try and present the purest form of rock’n’roll ideal. It’s about getting lost in fucking crazy music! This is a very contemporary record; it’s influenced by stuff from everywhere. it doesn’t sound like Carl Perkins or Chuck Berry, but it tries to reflect the true spirit of rock’n’roll. The spirit that got fucked up or obscured along the way some time in the ’70s or ’80s. Uh, does that sound alright?”

Jon, mate, it sounds fantastic! And another fantastic thing about ‘Acme’ is how it reeks of SOUL. Not ‘soul’ as in the beige slop currently being spewed out by Mary J Bilge (sic) and her feeble ilk but SOUL as in Atlantic and Stax. Aretha Franklin, James Brown and Wilson Pickett.

“Yeah. Those are all the best guitar sounds…” agrees Judah. Hi, Judah! Glad you could join us.

“It’s the best fucking music, yeah, I agree,” says Russell.

“That’s one of the reasons we wanted to record this album in Memphis, because Stax is such a big influence on the Blues Explosion…”

…But those chaps were making chart music. When are you going to start making proper pop music?

“To some degree I think that that’s what we tried to do with this record,” claims Jon, outrageously.

Well, you’ve patently not succeeded.

“What’s that?” snarls Jon, sniffing a stitch-up.

Well, it’s hardly a commercial record, is it?

“Well, yeah, OK, but for the Blues Explosion I’d say it is, y’know?”

Yeah, but Joe Cuzzinfucker out there in shitsville, Tennessee is hardly going to be lured away from Hootie & The Blowfish of The Whining Pumpkins, is he? Why don’t you guys team up with Tina Turner and really shift units?

“Whaaaaaaaaaaaaat!?” roars Russell, leaping to his feet and grabbing the tape recorder, which he then uses to bludgeon the journalist into a coma.

But I forgive them. We need bands like the Blues Explosion, now more than ever. In the 1950s corporate Amerikkka gave the world Pat Boone – a clean-living, cardigan-wearing white-as-fuck blandoid android proto-Morrissey – in an attempt to cut the huge black, throbbing cock’n’bollocks off dirty, disgusting, race-mixing, pill-popping, dope-smoking, whisky-reeking punk rock’n’fucking roll. And the war’s been raging ever since.

Subtlety, nicety, self-pity, filthy self-indulgent navel-gazing and the dismally defeatist cult of pitiful inadequacy are cancers in the rock’n’roll body politic. They need to be sliced out with razor-sharp attack guitars, elephant stampede drums and howling wolf screams of hunger, lust and wall-pounding frustration. Bands like the Blues Explosion and their punk rock’n’roll ilk are holding the fort against the ever increasing tide of tediously timid, hideously creepy, woefully wangsty, doomed-down and dull-as-fuck Stepford rock. It’s rock’n’roll versus anti-rock’n’roll. The sound of shit being fucked-up versus the sound of fucked-up shit. Which side are you on?

Meanwhile, Ma Turner, if you’re reading this: it’s time you stopped wallowing in mullet-metal MOR crap and got back to your deranged rock’n’roll roots. And you, Blues Explosion, it’s time you stopped farting about in Smelly Cult Statusland and started playing Wembley Stadium. You NEED each other. So come one! Get off your arses and get on the phone NOW! Together you could save rock’n’roll!”