The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

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Acme Review

by Stephen Thomas Erlewine

Part of the reason the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is so distasteful to the legions of blues purists is that Spencer cherishes not the mythology of the blues or the songcraft, but the groove, the actual sound of classic blues records. He couldn't care less about songwriting or technique; what's important is the feel and the grit of the performance, whether it's on-stage or on record. Often, that means that the Blues Explosion's records are better when they're playing than they are in memory, but there's no question that ever since Extra Width, the New York trio was exceptionally shrewd in crafting albums that pack real sonic force. They also were sharp enough to subtly explore new territory with each album, gradually moving from the Stonesy blooze of Extra Width through the funky Orange and gutbucket Now I Got Worry to Acme, where pure sound matters more than ever. Like the Stones, the Blues Explosion never abandon their signature sound, even when they're branching into new territory. No matter how many electronic bleeps, hip-hop loops, or cut-and-paste arrangements rear their heads on Acme, or how many producers or remixers are employed (including Calvin Johnson, Steve Albini, Suzanne Dyer, Alec Empire, Jim Dickinson, and the Automator), the primal, two-guitar racket remains at the center of the Blues Explosion's sound. But the electronica and hip-hop flourishes aren't folly, either -- they confirm Spencer's ultimate goal of sound over structure, force over sense. And while there are only a handful of songs to latch onto -- the slow, sexy "Magical Colors," the gonzoid rant "Talk About the Blues," the Jill Cunniff duet "Blue Green Olga" -- the dynamic explosions of sounds guarantee that Acme is a captivating listen, at least the first time through. While frequently exciting, the sonic experimentations sound cerebral instead of primal.

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