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The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
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Jon Spencer has always handled rock ‘n’ roll’s signifiers the way a shrewd 18-year-old might use a bitchen trust fund: with moments of careless glee, yet with enough restraint to keep the checks comin’ and the principal intact. In its decade-plus stumble to indie-rock prominence, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion has gotten friendly with hiphop, toyed with electronica, made peace with punk, and backhandedly goofed on cock rock. But as the trio proves on its latest, Plastic Fang, those moments were strictly ephemeral. Careerism is Spencer’s calling now, and he sees no sense in continuing to abuse the blooz, especially when nobody’s expecting a postmodern masterpiece, anyway. With its lack of snarky theremin solos and stoner breakdowns, Plastic Fang is the JSBX’s first pure roadhouse record: Drummer Russell Simins and guitarist Judah Bauer lay down no-nonsense power-tool grooves, and Spencer’s B-movie Elvoid howlings are tame compared with the kiss-my-ass catchphrases he spewed in the past. Hell, even Dr. John drops in for a little showtime on the slow-handed “Hold On.” The JSBX isn’t ready for the county-fair circuit quite yet, however. “She Said” could be a radio hit if the White Stripes’ fan base buys into the song’s breakbeat backbone and Stonesy boil-overs, and a few other songs (notably “The Midnight Creep”) do some fruitful fine-tuning of the JSBX’s booty-shaking formula. But Plastic Fang is less a step forward than the continuation of a franchise, one that has outgrown its flashy grand opening and is ready for some long-term growth. After all, adolescent-minded smartasses need to make a living, too. —Joe Warminsky