Now I Got Worry, the latest Blues Explosion album, kicks off with Jon Spencer letting out a primal scream that sounds like a young James Brown on amphetamines. Then the album explodes--pun intended--into a frenzy of swaggering riffs, primordial 4/4 beats, and some of the finest bits of rock and soul music snipped from days gone by. But before you can say "revivalism," Spencer's in your face with funny jive talk and catch phrases from rock's dictionary of cool. Meanwhile, The Explosion--guitarist Judah Bauer and drummer Russell Simins--never play a full song in the traditional sense but jump from a great chorus to an equally wonderful bridge with the hurry of men who want to rush on to the next riff and cram as many entries from rock's encyclopedia into one song. Maybe they lack the attention span.
Whatever the case, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion are rock 'n' roll's Cliff Notes; what makes their music so intoxicating is that they play it with the maniacal intensity of naughty boys who have just discovered the bacchanal joys of music. No band in recent memory makes '60s soul and garage punk sound like they belong together. Add some Stax, Delta blues, young Elvis, and Beastie Boys (at their funkiest and most experimental), and you get nutty professor Spencer giving a drunken lecture on rock history.
In "Can't Stop," a groovy Booker T and the MGs-style instrumental, Spencer slurs "I want everybody to put your hands in the air and kiss my ass." "Fuck Shit Up" is a few disjointed pieces and beats with Spencer inviting the imaginary audience to "Take a stand/Fuck the Man/Play it cool/Fuck the rules." Surprisingly, it sounds cool. In the bass-less, twin guitar voodoo-boogie of "Wail," The Explosion catches the early Cramps. For authenticity, they invite Rufus Thomas to sing on "Chicken Dog."
In the past, critics have accused Spencer of deconstructing the blues. Nothing could be further from the truth: The man loves the blues and there is genuine soul beneath his wide lapels. Anyway, "deconstructing" requires an intellectual process and Spencer wouldn't let anything cerebral get in his way. Like Iggy Pop, the Blues Explosion is best experienced live; a mere piece of plastic cannot capture the sweaty, wild abandon of the trio live. There is a bit of Elvis and a lot of soul singer strut in Spencer's stage antics, suggesting that he's the old-fashioned kind of performer who would rather go through the roof than the motions. Live, he looks like a man who has lost his grip and has no intent of finding it, letting the music take him wherever it goes.
The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion plays Trees Friday, November 29.