singles by choice
(albums when it's necessary)
16 February 2018
(listening with headphones)Avid Acutus
Funk F·XRII
Benz Micro LP-S
Linn Kilmax DS (Renew)
TEAD Mastergroove Mk 2
TEAD Vibe Phoenix / Pulse 2
Luxman P-1u
Sennheiser HD800

I noticed that I have quite a lot of Jon Spencer records, and I thought it would be a good idea to listen to them all, in order.

The sleeve says “THE SOUND OF THE FUTURE IS HERE TODAY”, but if this is the way music had gone, no one would listen to it any more. Raw as hell, there isn’t really anything that’s recognizably a song on here.

You get a few count-ins, a bare rhythm, some people applauding, some incomprehensible shouting, a very crude riff, and a one note song which sounds like tuning up. It’s most definitely someone from Pussy Galore, picking at the least listenable scabs of that band’s self-indulgence.

Historical interest only, but also kind of funny in its sheer perverseness. Even for Clawfist, rarely the most straight-down-the-line of labels, this is pretty out there.

2

Still in ‘92, they refactored the name for the first time, working around that troublesome apostrophe. This is a jukebox single on the mighty In the Red, so there’s no middle, and a little paper slip to put in your Wurlitzer, should you have one.

You’d never know it was the same people that made Recorded in Person. It’s definitely music: hard, loud, aggressive music played by a tight band with a brilliantly OTT frontman. There’s also a saxamaphone which regular readers (ha!) may know doesn’t sit well with me. It pretty much works here, particularly on the original composition b-side (the ‘a’ is a Chain Gang cover). This music kicks ass. Beavis and Butthead would approve.

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Shedding the band, or at least, one of them (Judah Bauer still plays the guitar) no-longer-big Jon closed out 1992 with a sort of apocalyptic skiffle Christmas record. He’s working the deranged Elvis/brain-damaged Sailor Ripley angle pretty hard, and throwing around lyrics like “Happy new year dad, I’m a gonna kick your ass”. Green vinyl, no middle, and quite a nice little thing.

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Into 1993 and they got back on In The Red’s jukebox thing with an ‘a’ that sounded like you were kicking a drum kit all the way down an airport corridor whilst being chased by someone with an electric guitar who knows one chord. Thumbs up.

The ‘b’ introduced what we now know as classic Blues Explosion tropes. Namely: false introductions, a theremin, randomly shouting “blues explosion”, listing cities, and generally being ridiculous.

4

I did Afro a few weeks ago. My opinion has not changed at all. This is truly one of the greats. I’m still not sure exactly what it is that plays the solo. I think it’s a guitar, but it’s so overloaded and distorted it could be anything. Possibly an organ? There’s an organ on the version on Mo’ Width.

Afro is the quintessential Blues Explosion record. It’s absolutely, utterly stupid. Everything is extreme to the point of caricature, yet it’s done with such intensity and integrity that all that comes out is thrilling fun. They could so easily have been some kind of absurd joke, but it works.

Relax Her is a loose rambling jam kind of affair, but this being the Blues Explosion, they lose interest after a couple of minutes and stop.

5

Orange is the Blues Explosion’s finest (part of an) hour, and it’s fitting they chose the most disjointed, unhinged, generally barmy track off it to be the single. Bellbottoms explores the largely uncharted territory on the far side of two minutes, which it does by way of being about half-a-dozen different songs joined together.

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You get those chefs, don’t you, who’ve seen The Fat Duck and Alinia on the telly, and they think “yeah, I can do that”, but they work in a twenty covers place in Chesterfield that only gets full on a Saturday, and they can’t get a dehydrator and a mass spectrometer, so they decide the best thing to do is “deconstruct” the things they normally serve. So you get a “deconstructed apple pie”, with the apple sous-vide-ed, and a little pile of crumble, and some candied walnuts, and some ice cream in a silly bowl, and they expect you to eat it all with impractical implements. And it’s rubbish, and you wish it was a normal piece of apple pie, but you’re supposed to say “how clever, you’ve redefined a thing I thought I knew”. That’s this record, but with Bellbottoms.

Well, it’s the ‘a’, anyway. On the ‘b’ Mike D from out of off of the Beastie Boys, Beck, from out of of off Loser, and some bloke I’ve never heard of, take Orange album cut Flavor, loop it, add some funny electronic noise, and, to continue the analogy, give you two slices of excellent apple pie.

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For the next of the In The Red jukebox things they broadened the sonic palette with a tinkly honky-tonk piano and some annoying beeping thing. Back when I was a Student Wanker, we would always put How Soon is Now? on the jukebox because it was about six minutes long, so you got more for your money. This is 1:34, but it’s still worth 50p of anyone’s chedda, especially in a semi-public place. The ‘b’ is a pretty straight song: rocking and rolling and hollering. You know the score.

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It’s seven inches, and pink with blue veins, Mrs Saunders. I prefer the CD single of this. That may be because I’m more comfortable handling five inches, or it may be because it has Cool Vee. “He keeps telling me that he’s ‘doing his thing’.”

The ‘a’ is notable for the sheer volume: everything is clipped and overloaded. Other key selling points are a catchy as hell riff, and a very good, even for Mr Spencer, “YEAH”. It’s an air guitar favourite, and if you air guitar this, you’re doing that face. Oh, and what a finish! I know I normally tell you to keep off the internet, but if you’re someone who YouTubes, look for this being performed on an Australian kids’ TV show.

Instead of Cool Vee we get Lets Smerf (sic) I have no idea what that means, but I’ve no idea what any other song they ever recorded is about either, so why should it start mattering now?

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I think this was an Australia-only release, and I even have a feeling it was the song they were supposed to do on the aforementioned TV show. They made the right decision, because though Rocketship is a cool, slinky, sunny thing, it’s not the sort of thing to soundtrack demolishing the Blue Peter studio. In fact, it’s remarkably restrained. Like they want to play something but they’ve got to keep the noise down because Cristina’s on nights and needs some proper kip.

Chocolate Joe is on the b-side, and though you wouldn’t want them doing it in the living room if you were on the phone in the kitchen, it’s still reasonably restrained. Fat and thick and rich and, well, a bit chocolatey.

Nice sleeve art, with a bit of a ’50s gas station vibe, and what looks like hand-lettering. That’s a dying art alright.

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Sounding big and shiny and like a proper band by now, but you still can’t tell what the heck he’s on about. You’d think someone with a semiotics degree from Brown would be at least partially interested in conveying some meaning, but no.

There’s all kinds of interesting reverb and echo on here. Compared to the chaos of much of the earlier stuff, this is a Swiss watch.

For Judah Love Theme someone called Cliff Taylor, (sounds like a darts player to me) does an evangelical preacher spiel about the titular guitarist.

Then, Radio Spot, an advert for Now I Got Worry. I’d never been a huge fan of that album, but this exercise made me dig it out, and dig it in general. It’s a belter.

5

The previous one was on grey vinyl and featured the “Video Mix” of Wail. This one is green and has the “Mario mix”. Sounds like a Vengaboys track to me. Mario’s mix isn’t much different. A bit cleaner, a bit shinier. It’s not as good.

We also get a live version of Flavor which, though it gives you a glimpse of what a machine they were live, feels like a cop-out given this was a band so prolific they would regularly release two or three versions of an entire album. But this was 1997, when the format wars produced needless records like this. You could probably get it on DAT.

3

Things changed on Acme. There was still chaos, but there was also calm, best exemplified by the various versions of Magical Colors

The ‘b’ is a massive fat stomper, and sounds a bit like Wail. Given what a limited range the Blues Explosion worked in, it’s remarkable how little repetition there is in their music.

The sleeve bills them as jSbX98 and Blues Explosion. I dunno. Lovely clear red vinyl.

4

Acme was also when jSbX99 or whatever they were called at this point, started getting collaborative. Sure, we’d had the dude honking the sax, and someone playing some keys, but the sleeve of this two-song 7” namechecks, among others, Steve Albini, Calvin Johnson, Dan the Automator, Moby, and WINONA BLOODY RYDER. She played Jon Spencer in the video (which was on the CD single, probably as a damn Quicktime – we’re still format warring here) and you can see her on the sleeve, casually representing Sheer. Effing. Perfection.

I can’t really talk about the blues. All I know is that “the blues ain’t about making yourself feel better, it’s about making other people feel worse”. This is not something the Blues Explosion ever did, ladies and gentlemen. (It’s catching.) But then, as he says, he does not play no blues, he plays rock and roll. But it’s not that either. I don’t know what the heck this is, with it’s screaming and feedback and looping one note bass. It’s bloody good though.

Wait a Minute mashes up a whole bunch of Everly Brothers lyrics with a siren, a disco guitar riff, bongos, and some needless swearing. The only constant in this music is that it’s always crackers.

Rock and roll.

5

We’re going to have to talk about the blues a bit longer, because there’s a 12” of this too. It’s got what’s called the Saints and Sinners Remix on the ‘a’, which loops the riff and puts a singy-talkie preacher over the top. Very David Holmes, who worked on the remix; maybe even a little Gavin Bryars, who didn’t.

We get similar remixes of Lovin’ Machine and Calvin, which were great to start with, and are in no way damaged by being made a bit longer and embellished with a bit of piano and brass.

3

Languid Americana now, with a surface noise sample which defeats the object of a 15 grand record player, a bit of scratching so crude I could probably manage it if I didn’t have such an expensive deck.

The longer the Blues Explosion’s career ran, the longer the songs got. This Acme era stuff passes three minutes without a thought.

The ‘b’ is the first song we’ve had tonight that’s bored me.

3

Never mind the Barry Adamson, we’re here for the Blues Explosion, and we really get beaten about the head with them here. New Year is too loud, too fast, too busy, too everything. It’s sort of like the musical equivalent of being blasted in the face with a pressure washer for a couple of minutes, but great.

This is one of a series of Slut Smalls 7”s; the type of thing I collect. I have a couple of feet of seven inch single series at the bottom of my shelves. I’m like that.

Not wishing to be dismissive of poor old Barry Adamson, his song is pretty good too, if a little superfluous in a “listen to all your blues Explosion singles” exercise.

4

Wherein something called Techno Animal puts a drum machine through a distortion pedal for forty minutes.

1

This is where they went back to Halloween Rolling Stones basics. Less shouting about the Blues Explosion and The Blues, more shouting about Rock and Roll. More faux crazy, less genuinely crazy. The sleeves all have a matching style, and lyrically the Plastic Fang songs share a theme of vague monsteriness. Expect lots of blood, werewolves, reverb.

Sweet N Sour is decent enough. There’s a middling live track on the ‘b’. Surprisingly ordinary.

3

The verses are Stonesian riffage, but they slip back into character on an overloaded blast of chorus. She Said is something of a return to character and return to form. (Not in the way every Morrissey album is a “return to form”, because on the third listen everyone realises the last one was shit.) Jon apparently now “craves the taste of blood”, and namechecks a “werewolf” a few times. It’s short, loud, and gloriously daft, which is all we ever ask the Blues Explosion to be. Ghetto Mom is a fairly ordinary rock tune, but the band absolutely slay it in a way the live track on the last single failed to.

5

I’m never sure whether to capitalize the “n” in “‘n’ roll”. I’d say “no”, because I wouldn’t capitalize “and”. A lot of people would. They’re generally the type of people who tell me “your a grammer nazi”. It’s how Hitler started, you know.

Here we get the proper version of the live b-side from earlier, and it’s beefier and better. The ‘b’ is a more cartoonishly Cramped Halloween take on the a-side from earlier (She Said).

3

2004, and they’re starting to look a bit old on the sleeve. They’re not slowing down though, and Burn it Off sounds like a slightly harder-edged version of the Plastic Fang stuff. (I don’t think I have Damage, the album this came from.) Things get more interesting on the ‘b’, with Fed Up and Low Down, a collaboration with DJ Shadow, of whom I am too old to have heard. It has the same forward/backward looking mash up of electronica and guitar-based screwiness that we saw on some of the Acme stuff, and it’s pretty damn good. I’d have made it the single, but I know nothing. The second ‘b’ side, Serial Number is a (probably improvised) instrumental, faded out far too quickly. I could have done a few more minutes of that, particularly if some loon kept shouting “Blues Explosion” over the top of it through a megaphone.

4

The sleeve art for the Damage singles has unifying motifs. Not quite fitting the title on the cover; a picture of a knackered old guitar; and a photo on the back of the boys looking well old.

They’ve dropped the “Jon Spencer” from the name, and it’s perhaps not quite so much his show as it once was. On Hot Gossip (sadly not an homage to Kenny Everett’s dancers) he shares the mic with Chuck D. Chuck is, as his is way, quite serious, and Jon starts off that way too, but by the end he’s just shouting about The Blues again. Welcome back fella, we missed you.

The ‘b’ is like Leadbelly or something. Apparently it’s from an album of Junior Kimbrough songs. It didn’t make me want to buy it.

2

Crunchy comes in a paper sleeve which offers very little protection, but fortunately the record is about the thickness of a good dinner plate. They’ve messed up my thesis on the unified artwork: no guitar on the front, and the monochrome pic on the back cleverly makes them all look younger.

It’s a good song. Makes you want to move your feet a bit, or at least bob your head. And possibly do a stern pouty face while you air-bar-chord. Dan the Automator is back on this one. I might start calling myself “Rob the Automator”, because that’s what I am. I do the automation. Automate all of the things. But then I’d be one of those people who try to choose their own nickname, and they sit somewhere between drunk drivers and food-instragrammers in my personal hierarchy of worthlessness.

The ‘b’ is a remix (Solex ‘Bounce’ Remix – don’t ask me) which sort of pitch shifts, to the end that it sounds quite a bit like the sillier end of Ween. This is a Good Thing. We get to properly hear that synth bass that was buried on the ‘a’, and it’s an absolute beauty.

4

Mouthorgan. A word which in our internet-porn-addled age suddenly looks rude. Thanks internet. Thanks for so much. This record has no middle (nice) and was sealed in a poorly fitting plastic bag (bad). Do you remember the 1990s, asks Jon? Yeah, ozone layer, Gulf War. Do you remember the 1980s? Yeah, AIDS, Cold War. Do you remember the 1970s? Yeah, Primary school, IRA.

It’s all about “memories” these days isn’t it? Taking photographs is now “making memories” and people have “bucket lists”, more because they want to have done things than because they want to do them.

‘b’ is Black Mold and, coincidentally, this very morning I bought some black mould remover for our terrace. I’ll be sure to keep it away from this record, lest we end up in the same situation as Steven Wright’s dog.

In summary, it’s noisy, it’s fast, it’s classily trashy, and he still spends most of his time announcing who he is.

4

Back with the full name, back on In the Red, back with the no middle and the bit of paper to put in the jukey, back to shouting about the Blues Explosion, back to the theremin, and back to the fifties, if the fifties were more deranged and lot louder.

The b-side is about ten seconds long and has a kind of tiki drumming thing. It’s crackers, and a blast of pure fun. Ladies and gentlemen, the BLUES EXPLOSION.

5

Another Record Shop day Rip Off. Pressed on unnecessarily large vinyl. To my mind, Blues Explosion singles should be sevens. Larger feels wrong. Nice sleeve though.

She’s On It is the old Beastie Boys song. The one with the riff so dumb it makes Fight for Your Right sound like There She Goes. JSBX know how to handle a dumb-ass riff, and it sounds almost tolerable here, fuzzed up and enormous. The Jack the Ripper that surfaces in the middle seems to be the Link Wray one rather than the Screaming Lord Sutch, which is a shame. I like the sample at the end. You know you’ve made it when you’re a question on a quiz, even if no one knows the answer. “Bassless ’90s trio.”. The “no bass” thing was kind of their gimmick, even if they never intended it to be. Never understood the fuss myself.

The ‘b’ is called Audio Vacation, and it’s not easy to describe. You’ve got a 4/4 kick drum, a bit of talking, some kind of honking foghorn thing, some upright bass, the odd bluesy guitar lick, many references to the Blues Explosion, and not a whole lot of sense.

3

Here we are in 2015. Twenty-three years older than when we started, but thankfully little wiser. The voice has lost some of its faux-Elvis depth, but has acquired a little rolled-r affectation that’s just as daft. We’re still shouting about rock and ROLL, even if we aren’t playing it, and after all those dalliances with sampling, and looping, and noise, and collaboration, we’re back to three blokes in a room beating bloody hell out of their instruments and having a contagiously good time.

It’s not the best record of the batch. But, ladies and gentlemen, long live the BLUES EXPLOSION. Still number one.

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