The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion – Vice: I Cannot Play The Blues: The Rock ‘n’ Roll Fireball Jon Spencer [1000 Words] (PRESS, US)

November 1998 Vice
This article originally appeared in Vice magazine but was later included in a press release sent out by Matador Records to promote The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion release Acme. Also sent out with several other photocopied articles/reviews and a 10″ x 8″ black and white band photograph.

“The summer of 1995 was hot for us Ontarians – so hot, in fact, that one night in July the sky boiled. I remember thinking, “you know, green is an awfully funny colour for the sky,” when the gigantic ball of fire screamed its way south, directly over my head. It turned out to be a meteor; it landed close to Buffalo, or maybe in Buffalo, or on Buffalo. At any rate, I was shocked. I phoned the police and asked them about the giant ball of fire. The police didn’t know anything. I asked my family. They were also mute. I asked friends and neighbours, in whose regard I slipped a notch or two I’m afraid. Nobody knew anything, and I began to question my sanity.

I’d all but forgotten about the giant ball of fire when, absent-mindedly flipping to Much Music, I saw Jon Spencer Blues Explosion interview with Sook-Yin Lee. Jon Spencer, Russell Simins and Judah Bauer were seated outside, speaking with Lee, when that very same giant ball of fire flew over their heads. The ball of fire finished the interview. I was pleased to be redeemed, but also kind of awe-struck by the cosmic powers of the Blues Explosion. Where else can you find a band to bring down the heavens?

When I spoke with Spencer, however, he was well-grounded. “Cosmic influences?” He asked. “No, I don’t think so. But the ball of fire was really fucking weird.” Spencer’s slight southern twang was a bit edgy. The Blues Explosion just returned from a brief tour of Japan. They played the rooftop of a department store in Shibuya, which Spencer said was exciting and, dare I say, slightly cosmic. Spencer’s been tied-up in interviews since he got back, and between jetlag and the press, weariness is taking its toll. Besides that, the release of a Blues Explosion record is sort of a cosmic even. I know you want me to ask it. Arguments over whether or not the white-boy Northerner misappropriates Mississippi blues climb out of the woodwork and parade through publications.

Spencer’s tired of the issue, and shouts his answer out loud on Acme’s fifth track, “Talk About The Blues.” “I got something I want everyone to hear right now, ladies and gentlemen,” Spencer sings. “I don’t play no play blues. I play rock ‘n roll! I cannot play the blues. I play rock ‘n roll!” Spencer says he’s never kept his influences secret, that he’s always liked the blues, rap and hip hop, that the enthusiasm he brings to his music is a combination of punk’s energy and the soulful sexuality of Southern music. It’s a queer mixture and impossible to understand on their records. Sight-unseen, the Blues Explosion is an enigma. But that enigma hangs together better on this, their fifth album, than on previous efforts.

Oddly enough, Acme is a record of remixes. “With us, it’s all about fuck the last one,” Spencer says. “Shit of get off the pot. This is a new record. We wanted a different sound – something new – so we went in with a different approach.” The groundwork for the album was completed in January, when the band recorded with Steve Albini. The Blues Explosion then farmed out tapes to people they’re worked with before, like Dan The Automator and Calvin Johnson, and to new folks like Alec Empire. Each track on Acme has different production credits, and, at times, more than one mixing credit. “Desperate,” for example, was mixed by both Greg Talenfield and Dan The Automator because Spencer felt that editing the mixes together made the track stronger. But for all the different production credits listed in Acme’s liner notes, the album comes together as a whole. The resemblance to 1994’s Orange is more than cursory – yes, Acme’s sleeve is orange – eschewing Now I Got Worry’s deconstructive rock in favour of party atmospherics.

What’s most interesting about Acme is how mature is sounds. Listening to Dial M For Motherfucker – the defining record of Spencer’s previous outfit, Pussy Galore – next to Acme is like being a quadriplegic with a terrifying itch, like experiencing a post-modernity of being. It’s almost impossible to reconcile the Spencer of 1988 with the Spencer of 1998; they look and sound completely different from each other. And the difference between a Blues Explosion record and their live show is equally incongruous. It’s something else to watch Spencer – thin, white, vibrating – pull slick moves on stage while Simins pounds the drums and Bauer teases encouragement from his guitar. The canned songs can’t approach the live potential. They might just have to invent a new medium for the Blues Explosion, so that when the record is played people automatically sweat and shimmy at the hip.

Not coincidentally, then, Andre Williams is listed as spiritual advisor on the new record. Williams is the 61 year-old rock ‘n roller whose album, Silky, on In The Red, is a bad-ass collection of songs. Spencer says that Williams provided the inspiration for Acme. “I’m a big fan of his,” Spencer says. “I really like his old Fortune stuff.” The sexuality of the Blues Explosion live conjoined with Andre Williams’ obsession with copulation will be a force to be reckoned with when they go on tour together this month.

It’s that quality of the Blues Explosion most critics miss – their ability to seduce an audience into sexual frenzy – and that, in part, negates arguments formulated around Jon Spencer as some Black-culture parasite. Spencer might sound like he’s mocking the blues and his own ego with the Blues Explosion’s songs. But the larger, more cosmic quality of the music – it’s ability to get into your pants and wiggle around – falls by the wayside in such academic discussion. Who cares, as long as it makes you feel alright. “I wanna make it alright,” sings Spencer. That’s what it’s about – all good things.


The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s Acme is out now on Matador Records. “