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Exile on mainline

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
Matador/Capitol Records

Jon Spencer's all concept--post-punk, post-blooze, the Delta by way of SoHo--so the execution's not a problem; hasn't been since he and Pussy Galore turned the blues into performance art and boogied on that fine line that separates revolutionary genius and unlistenable bullshit. Acme actually owes more to Spencer's "side project" Boss Hog than to any previous JSBX record, except maybe for Orange: This time around, Spencer is Ike Turner and Mick Jagger in a downtown dilettante's get-up, pouting and preening while howling from his left nut about how he wants to get heavy and make it allll riiiight. Meanwhile, the band--augmented by such mall-stars as Luscious Jackson's Jill Cunniff, Delta 72's Greg Foreman, Boss Hog's Cristina Martinez, and producers Steve Albini, Calvin Johnson, and Jim Dickinson--just tries to keep it together.

The opener "Calvin" makes it funky (drummer Russell Simins keeps the beat between his knees); it's back-porch, church pew, and basement all at once. The second song, "Magical Colors," apes every Rolling Stones record between Exile on Main Street and Some Girls; and the rest of the disc splits the difference between pseudo-blues, pseudo-funk, and pseudo-soul. Spencer's so ersatz, you often have to wonder if the guy's for real. Just a few years ago, Spencer's brand of retro-primitivism felt forced, silly, dubious; it even seemed a little condescending--a white boy who "discovered" the blues and reshaped it in his own term-paper image. Yet now, Spencer no longer aims for endemic in his inexact quest for "authenticity."

What he has finally created--austere, big-beat, trash-can rock and roll, the Stones playing punk clubs--is his own sound now for better or worse, not just a mere mish-mash of influences for their own sake. A song like "Bernie" (featuring Martinez) is unmistakably his, lowdown and sexy like a Ralph Bakshi cartoon. Besides, he doesn't think he's a bluesman anyway: "I don't play no bloooooze," Spencer growls on one track. "I play rock and roll! That's right." Like, what's the dif? Perhaps the biggest difference between Acme and its predecessors is that Spencer, Simins, and bassist Judah Bauer no longer ride a groove till it peters out. "Bellbottoms" off Orange was a cool song, but by the time it got to the end, the damned thing had two flats and one spare. Acme's "High Gear" sounds almost like a Lou Reed throwaway, if Reed wrote songs about driving souped-up GMs into a snow drift. It's playful and tangled, if meaning only that Spencer has decided he's not above the occasional foray into verse-chorus-verse. Better yet, it's not all bump without the grind.

--Robert Wilonsky

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Robert Wilonsky
Contact: Robert Wilonsky

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