The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion sneaked back onto the music radar in 2012 with the low-key but highly enjoyable Meat + Bone. The album quietly took the band back to their roots. Stripped down and ready to fight they reminded the upstarts who pilfered many of their ideas who does it best.
In a sense though, Meat + Bone was the appetiser, a flavour of what we love about the band and why the music scene needed them. Now, 3 years later, the main course is here, creaking under the title of Freedom Tower – No Wave Dance Party 2015.
Let’s not call it a concept album, but Freedom Tower is an ode to New York. It’s a party for the cities honour and a celebration of its glories, squalor and insanity.
The ghost of NYC past, present and future are shaken up and kicked up. The chaos and intensity of Public Enemy, Beastie Boys’ singular approach to having a good time, the swagger of Johnny Thunders to name but three. Hell, even the spectre of ol’ Jon Spencer is here; yet the man himself never sounded so alive.
The album is a mess. A glorious, sensory overloading mess. It’s a tad overwhelming at first. Yet this is New York. Having never been I can only guess that stepping into that teeming city must be intensely disorientating. Freedom Tower captures that in spades.
The sound is crunchy rock ‘n’ roll even by JSBX standards, but with huge dollops of funk, punk and hip-hop sounds and influences stirred in. The 13 songs are fleeting and careering. It may be best the consider the album as a whole, songs bleed into one and other, for example with the stream-of-conscience word barrage of ‘Wax Dummy’ serving as a warm up to brace the listener for the lead single ‘Do The Get Down’…
…More than just being the best track on the album, ‘Do The Get Down’ practically serves as mission statement for the band. Mixing musical heritage and the DNA of the Big Apple to rake up a spine tingling sensation, this could well end up being the go-to song for the JSBX.
Click to watch the stunning video for ‘Do The Get Down’. See if your favourite New York film or band is featured…
‘Funeral’ throws up with a squiggly rhythm and gets the party off to a juddering, bursting at the seams energy. ‘White Jesus’ is starker with a simpler riffs and bone-headed drum beat. ‘Down And Out’ slows this to an almost seductive drawl. After a comparatively subdued middle section ‘Crossroad Hop’ gets things dirty again, it’s impulses to dance stuttering. ‘The Ballad Of Joe Buck’ sounds like rock music in a cement mixer, stirred up and fucked up. ‘Bellevue Baby’ hoovers along with saucy intent. ‘Tales of Old New York: The Rock Box’ is a major highlight, with electro-shock guitar and ants-in-your-pants drums, with Jon talking us on an tour of cool as- joints. ‘Cooking For Television’ starts as laconic as Coogan’s Bluff, until the fire alarm guitar solo at the half way mark stirring up trouble and rounds the album off on a fun, frisky note.
Jon’s in great voice here, spitting out reams of words. Since Meat + Bone he has reined in a few of his occasionally grating tics, he now longer feels the need to proclaim the name of the band 16 times every song.
Brevity is a key to the success of this album, Without meaning to sound like a backhanded comment, the shortness of the record is a blessing. At 34 minutes, Freedom Tower is bold, enervating and euphoric. Anything north of 50 minutes it would just get on your tits, but this is just bang on. There isn’t a second wasted, with a perfect mixture of economy and flourishes.
Guess what? They’re number 1. Back where they belong.