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Wednesday, June 1, 2011

18. The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion: Orange

If you've been keeping track of Marc, Turn That Down!, you might have noticed a lack of 90s music being reviewed. They were mostly dark days, the 90s. So many favorite bands seemed to forego their successful pasts and pull new sounds from a grab bag like contestants on a reality TV show (R.E.M., U2, and The Cure). Others were strong only a short time ago and the negative forcefield of the 90s hit and tore them apart (Pixies, Stone Roses, and Echo & the Bunnymen). For some, Father Time was shaking his glass, and it was last call (Big Audio Dynamite, PIL, Violent Femmes, and Fishbone). The decade was not without it's share of classics, and there will be plenty of posts highlighting those, but, overall, 1990-1999 were not the strongest ten years of music.

New on the scene in the early 90s were bands like Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Smashing Pumpkins as the grunge genre reared its ugly flannel-wrapped head. The music was mind-blowing, but certainly couldn't be labeled as fun. Enter The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion and their 1994 album Orange (stocked with rhythm and blues, rockabilly, punk, name it)! Jon Spencer is a demonic-Elvis of a frontman, but singing is not quite high on his priority list. This is 45 minutes of "music first"...followed by attitude, virility, and...somewhere down the line come songwriting and singing. And the lyrics, to be sure, aren't much more than shouting out the names of the cities where The Blues Explosion is "number one". He also channels early east coast hip hop by glorifying the band with shout-outs constantly throughout the course of Orange...You can hear the words "Blues Explosion" over 25 times. The rest of the lyrics focus on Spencer's sex drive or are virtually incomprehensible. However, this is a product of JSBX enjoying themselves...imbibing and having fun...and that's the target audience. It's not dinner music.

Orange grabs you right away and immediately lets you know what's in store. "Bellbottoms" opens the album with the trio (Spencer, guitarist Judah Bauer, and drummer Russell Simins) pounding out the intro over Spencer's growling mumble, while Bauer and Simins cheer him on as if curbside at the start of a fight. Then kicks in the 70s disco strings and the party is on! However, JSBX is at its best on Orange when the band tones it down a bit and maintains control (for example, "Dang" is powerful but painful). After "Bellbottoms", the list of great tracks include "Sweat", "Orange", Blues x Man", "Full Grown" (At this point, Jon would like you to know that young girls..."16, 17, 18...just don't know what's happening" and that he needs a full grown woman.), and "Flavor". "Flavor" features a phone-call cameo by a young Beck, and this provides us with one of the great moments from Orange. With smooth, mellow verses from the up and comer finished, Beck asks Spencer if he'd like him to do one more take. He is taken aback as Spencer ignores him in favor of shouting, "You got the flavor!" until Beck sings it with him.

This is JSBX's best album. Every album that came after it made an attempt to match Orange, but none could. Sheer power, fun, adrenaline...Orange was a blast!

I was disappointed with the videos I was able to provide for you. The first is a version of "Flavor" from an album of remixes...nowhere near as good as the original Orange version. The second is a promotional video for "Bellbottoms" that begins about two minutes in...skipping the entire introduction, which includes the mood-setting 70s style strings arrangement by Kurt Hoffman.

Summer's almost here. There's lots of great music coming your way soon. Don't let radio dictate your choices. Go out and get what you want!

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