Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

May 2

As blues drama goes, Buddy Guy may be feeling old this week, but at least he doesn't feel superfluous. Jon Spencer, the mutton-chopped leader of the blues-exploding outfit that bears his name, has seen the garage-rock/dirty-blues resurrection he's been leading nearly singlehandedly for a decade swing into vogue in the past year, with pipsqueaks like the White Stripes and the Strokes earning the critical accolades Spencer used to get and the mainstream sales he's never managed. Meanwhile, Plastic Fang, Spencer's new album, provides a dependably rowdy trip through the usual terrain--chickenscratch guitars, stomping drums, Spencer's lusty yowl--but continues down the same gentle incline the Blues Explosion has been on since 1994's Orange, when the riffs and the jokes and the sex last combined in equal measure.

What's sort of sad about it is that Spencer seems like he's doing the best he can: He brags about chewing a big wad of Bazooka on "Hold On," but can't produce a groove chewy enough to back it up; he appropriates '50s B-movie rebel-as-werewolf shtick on "Killer Wolf" (and in the album's packaging) but sounds like your dad reliving old glories; "She Said" actually arranges itself into a melody but then just sort of hangs there. Compare that with Jack White's ability to tell a young man's story that sounds 80 years old, or Julian Casablancas' maddeningly casual way with a mike stand, and Spencer starts to look like the bluesman that time forgot. Not quite fair for someone who's paid his dues and made the water safe for the next generation, to be sure. But don't forget that Spencer's the same guy who once covered Exile on Main Street and made it sound like a black hole wired to a demolished Marshall half-stack--even originators occasionally feel the sting of poetic justice.

 
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