Sunday, November 11, 2007
Pillaging The Trash For Nuggets
With "Going Way Out With Heavy Trash" Jon Spencer's side project Heavy Trash seems to have become the his number one concern. All though none of the Explosion's members have ever mentioned disbanding, that band seem to have hit the end of their run with 2004's "Damage". Not that's a bad thing. Even though "Damage" was an exceptionally strong album for the Blues Explosion, the band seemed to have run out of steam during the tour supporting it. Blues Explosion shows were never a straight forward affair, but during that last tour the guts and glory seemed to have gone out of it. The band looked like they were fed up with being the most promising independent Blues Trash act out there. The Blues Explosion had been the critics darlings for over ten years at that point and the creativity that was once there was fading. The Blues Explosion, who were once a guaranty for lean and mean R&R shows, for on stage jams that sucked the audience in a sleazy mud pool of greasy riffs, were going through the motions. The last show I saw I walked out on them. Their half hearted fiddling seemed listless, the Blues Explosion had become boring. They were the opposite of the exiting promise they once were.
So Jon Spencer pursuing the path he took with Heavy Trash might not be a bad thing. The first album he and Verta-Ray produced carried ten times more the exitement his Blues Explosion projects had since "Now I Got Worry". Part of that exitement stems from the songs. With the Blues Explosion writing songs have always been the band's Achilles heel. Some of the best songs the Blues Explosion, or Jon Spencer, did, were collaborations with others. On "Now I've Got Worry" there was that greasy Soul stomp "Chicken Dogg" with Rufus Thomas, on "Damage" it was "Hot Gossip" with Chuck D. The songs Jon Spencer did for Andre Williams on "Black Godfather" or the songs he did with R.L. Burnside on "An Ass Pocket Of Whiskey", were stronger, more cohesive affairs than the work he did on the Blues Explosion albums. Jon Spencer is the King of riffs, pillaging Blues history like a roving buccaneer. But somehow his albums always got stuck in soundscapes, without ever developing into solid song writing. Jon Spencer's experiments were enough to make him the critics' darling but remained too inaccessible to gain him some real recognition.
Heavy Trash seems to be a step forward in that respect. Not only is Spencer covering new grounds in his raids for riffs, his teaming with Verta-Ray and the Sadies has resulted in some actual songs. Spencer broadened his horizon by adding riffs stolen from Rockabilly acts such as Link Wray, Ernest Tubb and Eddie Cochran to his repertoire on top of the John Lee Hooker and Steve Cropper riffs he all but exhausted with the Blues Explosion. Add the song writing help from Verta-Ray and you've got a Jon Spencer that actually sounds fresh and inspired again. Heavy Trash is unmistakably a Jon Spencer project, it's got the same gusto and machismo we've grown accustomed to. In that sense his songs have always been a bit one-dimensional, but hell, sometimes its just nice to give in to that. One dimensional as it may be R&R tends to sound better when people like Spencer get their mojo working. And it has been a long time since Spencer sounded this sexy and dangerous.
They Were Kings