The idea of a collaboration between 764-Hero's soft-spoken frontman/guitar hero John Atkins and Murder City Devils' howler Spencer Moody would have never occurred to most people. In fact, the mere suggestion of such a thing probably would have elicited a round of hearty chuckles. However, with their respective bands calling it quits, the unlikely duo got together for a one-off recording session under the almost overly sly moniker the John and Spencer Booze Explosion. Rest assured, the name is where the group's similarity to the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion ends.
An odd and eclectic array of cover songs, the Booze Explosion's record is interesting, but will most likely only find an audience in those who were already fans of the members' other outfits. This is a bit of a shame as the nature of the songs included on the album don't seem likely to strike a chord with this demographic. The albums opens with "Girls and the Dogs," a number by Belgian singer/songwriter Jacques Brel. Moody's dramatic, nearly theatrical, reading of the song seems rather in line with Scott Walker's famously grandiose voicing of the tune that charted well in England in the late '60s. A few more modern songs are included on the record as well, including Air labelmate Sebastien Tellier's "Black Douleur" and Ben Folds' typically playful and campy cabaret number "Boxing" (which has also been covered by Bette Midler). A rather straightforward rendition of Fred Neil's sparse acoustic ballad "Felicity" is well-suited to Moody's sometimes talky vocal style, making it easy to reimagine him as a Lee Hazlewood-esque singer in the '60s, rather than a '90s rock & roller. This comes in handy, as the Explosion also tackles Hazlewood's "Ladybird," albeit sans Nancy Sinatra and her big white go-go boots. The record closes with a rendition of the Velvet Underground's "Jesus" that is nearly as desolate and haunting as the original. Though few of the songs covered on this album truly reinvent the visions of the original recordings, they are worth checking out -- not so much as a novelty -- but as a glimpse into the eclectic tastes and talents of some fine musicians. The Explosion has actually managed to unearth a common musical thread that runs between obscure '60s French pop songs, '90s cabaret revisionism, and the Velvets, the surprising thing is how natural the connection seems now that they've brought it to light. If there is another album in the Explosion's future, it will be interesting to see what sort of game of musical connect-the-dots they lead next time around.