Sounding outgunned and outmanned, Jon Spencer yelps,
“You’re never gonna top us, you’re never gonna
beat us / Can you dig my band?” And then the drums kick in on
“Damage,” the first song off of Blues Explosion’s
latest record of the same name.

Music Reviews

As the track seems to drop down and lock into its groove.
Spencer goes on preaching and pontificating, working up a vocal
maelstrom, and never sounds all that convincing. But that’s
not really the purpose here. Blues Explosion’s
style-over-substance approach means that the only stated goal is to
make twisted-blues rock‘n’ roll, not to make a
point.

“Damage” is followed by “Burn It Off,”
another raucous boot-stomper that goes nowhere, before the album
slows down on “Spoiled.” The soft, almost tribal-like
drums and female backup vocals make the song sound haunted and
hallowed. It’s a welcome break from the run-of-the-mill
riffing that pervades the rest of the album and a style the band
should consider employing more. Elsewhere, Chuck D’s vocals
on “Hot Gossip” are surprisingly effective, his
spoken-word baritone style fitting in well with Spencer’s
world-weary confidence.

Thankfully, no attempt was made to instill any sort of hip-hop
sensibility — the results might have been disastrous. The
same can be said for Dan the Automator and DJ Shadow’s
contributions as producers. Automator has worked with Blues
Explosion before, on 1998’s Acme; his knob-twiddling
on “Crunchy” and “Help These Blues” does
not deviate from the band’s sound. Shadow’s work on
“Fed Up and Low Down” is more evident, with screeching,
stop-and-start Bomb Squad bleeps, but the song would still benefit
from some more experimentation.

Ultimately, Damage is not effective because it lacks any
element of danger. Spencer can howl all he wants, but he fails to
pull off the crazed bluesman image he’s striving for. The
band almost sounds predictable in its attempted trippiness. When,
on “Help These Blues,” Spencer opines that “This
is not the devil’s music!” it’s already a
foregone conclusion.

Rating: 2 out of 5 stars.

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