After a long night of heavy partying, the body can sometimes start rejecting all requests for movement even though the mind is awake, alert and urging you to proceed regardless of the consequences. Usually the mind wins, and you end up doing something that feels good at the time, but you regret later. That pretty much sums up the new album from the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Meat and Bone‘s forbidden fruit leaves you wanting more, even when you know it’s bad for you. It’s bad for your speakers, charged with the task of bearing the brunt of the reverberations and handling the ultra-aggressive blues riffs destined to be cranked to the maximum. This, in turn, makes the album clearly bad for the ear drums that have the daunting task of absorbing all of the raw, unpretentious rock at full volume. The album is a bad influence on the part of your brain responsible for the automotive gas pedal control function, particularly when accompanied on an open country road; inevitably, a greater velocity will be achieved than allowed by law. The album is especially bad at keeping fine ales in the fridge: it is a quintessential party album after all. Meat and Bone, in a nutshell, is kick-ass bad and it has addictive qualities that will force you to play the record multiple times at full throttle, perhaps to the dismay of your loved ones. You have been warned.
Of all the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion albums to date – and there have been many impressive moments in their storied 20 year span – this is by far their raunchiest blues effort. Meat and Bone is garage rock versus the blues in a prizefight with Jon Spencer presiding as the announcer over the top of the mayhem. Don’t let the New York threesome’s weathered features or the fact that it has been 8 years since their last release fool you. Unlike old timers who have been around the block for years and are forming reunion tours that are so out of date they are liable to leak fossil fuels, JSBE are running with a full tank of aggression and improvisation. As the title suggests, Meat and Bone return to the raw, unassuming aesthetic that first made them Manhattan’s favourite seedy-bar-fightin’-blues band.
‘Black Mold’, the lead track and their first single, contains something rare in a Blues Explosion track: a chorus. Normally, as on the fantastic ‘Boot Cut’ or ‘Get Your Pants Off’, the band play like they are live in your living room with Jon’s vocals and guitar wailing and Judah Bauer and Russell Simins providing some seriously crunchy riffs and abusive rhythms. On ‘Black Mold’, JSBE (and the impression of a chorus of hundreds) come together to give us an earth-shattering hook of over top killer guitar work and rhythm that relentlessly attacks the senses. Not to be outdone, ‘Ice Cream Killer’ bares a similar punchy feel and continues to assert the message that sugary sweetness will be kicked in the teeth. ‘Bottle Baby’ gives us a glimpse into what is perhaps the real motivation behind the record: “I feel like a god but I still have a problem paying the rent”. In typical blues fashion, things seem better downing a bottle, though the track ends with a foreshadow of a time when JSBE are no longer worthy of the stage and are relegated to just drinking. Thankfully, we are not there yet Jon.
To the nay-sayers who assert that the days of drugs-and-sex-and-rock n’ roll are dead, at the very least, JSBE prove that rock ‘n’ roll is alive and well. Should they ever decide to remake the classic American film Easy Rider, Meat and Bone could provide some gorgeous moments combining, as it does, the open road feel of the ’70s with an attitude worthy of beer stains and bar fights and the spirit of punk. It’s so good, it’s bad.