Novelty ushered in second guitarist and vocalist Bill Barbot, immediately bolstering Jawbox's might. Differing from the debut, the guitars are sharper and the riffs are more concise. Less straight-ahead, the record is also more dynamic, benefiting from more varied material. The only negative aspect is Iain Burgess' murky production. Normally an outstanding producer, Burgess gives Novelty a bizarre din that frustrates in places. Adam Wade's drums sound a bit canned, and J. Robbins' vocals sound too "from the depths" on occasion. It's still a marked improvement over Grippe, with Wade and bassist Kim Coletta sounding more in tune with each other; Barbot immediately proves to be the perfect foil for Robbins, engaging in some excellent guitar joust throughout.
Lyrically, Robbins gets more abstract. (He also screams a bit more, but in a well-controlled manner.) Less introspective perhaps, songs like the excellent "Static" (one of the band's finest moments) seem to tackle one-on-one issues. Otherwise, who knows exactly what Robbins is addressing? Definitely not cut and dry, the songs certainly leave themselves open to any form of interpretation, but how do you decode lines like "I've got this syllable sickness called the six second blues/No doubt quixotic talk has been subsumed"? Sounds neat, so go with it.
Novelty is transformed from a good record to a great one with the addition of the "Tongues" single. Full of dense swirls of swooping guitars, only to be ejected by a thick riff (the intro almost sounds like the Smiths' "How Soon Is Now"), the song separates the band from their D.C./Chicago roots while clinging to them at the same time. Call it My Bloody Minor Raygun.