No Worry: Jon Spencer Blues Explosion
People who never got a chance to despise Jon Spencer when he was masterminding the sump-noise of Pussy Galore in the '80s, singing numbers like "You Look like a Jew" and "Eat Me," can hate him for what his current band, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, have wrought since the turn of the decade: caroming dada noise that might be a smug mockery of white '60s blues, if not the entire idiom. Might be, might not be -- presumptions about Spencer's motivations shouldn't be allowed heftier consideration than the music itself. The songs on Now I Got Worry (Matador), the new Blues Explosion disc (in stores October 15), deserve to be shaken loose from whatever personal distinction Spencer has had for being an offensive turd in years past.It's a given that a certain lump of the population won't get a kick out of his new yelpings. Some people winced when Spencer jive-barked about digging a ditch on the Blues Explosion's Orange (Matador) a couple of years ago, and some people won't find much to love in the nuevo-swamp stylings of Now I Got Worry. Same as the three previous Blues Explosion discs, Worry feels like a spontaneous combustion, a car crash of songs that portends calamity but somehow doesn't (usually) wipe out in an unlistenable mess. From one second to the next, you never know where Worry's headed, and that sense of lawlessness is precisely what makes Spencer's music much more than some kind of useless goof on the likes of a young Mick Jagger or Eric Burdon. Grousers be damned, it's rare to come so close to wreckage without having to pile up the casualties.Worry begins with a teetering yowl, yet another Spencer-ism that'll grate on the grousers, who'll wonder what this relatively prosperous dude could possibly know about real gutbucket hurt. But heck, Spencer does live in Manhattan, which is cause enough for an occasional primal holler, no?What is the nature of authentic blues, anyhow? If Spencer were black, 50 years older, and grew up in the Mississippi Delta, would the grousers cease and desist? Maybe they would capitulate if Spencer were more like the renowned bluesman R.L. Burnside, for instance, whose bassless trio has toured with the bassless trio of the Blues Explosion (he collaborated with the Blues Explosion on the recent A Ass Pocket of Whiskey and plays on Worry's "R.L. Got Soul"). Or maybe like Rufus Thomas, with whom the Blues Explosion recorded some of Worry down in Memphis. (Thomas is responsible for classics "Walkin' the Dog" and "Do the Funky Chicken," and he wrote the words to Worry's "Chicken Dog.")Ultimately, the matter of whether or not Spencer is full of crap dissolves for the simple reason that Blues Explosion's songs are loosely built around the same type of low-bellied grooves that give traditional blues its pull. However affected Spencer's downhome drawl may be, it's not the point. The interplay of his and Judah Bauer's guitars with Russell Simins's drumming makes a sound larger than all the purist nitpicking in the world. Song after song on Worry boils over with an unprocessed immediacy, starting the second after Spencer's introductory plaint vanishes, when "Skunk" comes barreling out on a riff that burns and ripples and finally mutates straight into "Monkey Man." (Which gets Spencer's longstanding Jagger fixation out of the way early on.)Not all of Worry carries that kind of momentum, but a good-sized chunk does. Excluding the forgettable quickie chaos of a couple of numbers, Worry works because not only are Spencer's motivations secondary to the sound he creates, but his theatrics come off as more funny than obnoxious. At the close of one number, he announces, "Ah know where Ah'm goin.' Heh, sure Ah do." It's so hammy it's farcical, just the sort of cliche you'd expect of him. At the same time it's loaded with self-awareness and an honest, endearing truth, given the shambles he's just wrapped up.Another moment gives shape to the spirit of Worry and the Blues Explosion in general. "Hot Shot" is bounding along all tense and hopping, Spencer doing his best Elvis drawl. It stop-starts, then bleeds into "Can't Stop," which sounds like Lynyrd Skynyrd on codeine. After a little while it comes down to a funky drum break and Spencer deadpans, "This is the part of the record where I'd like everybody to stand upÊ.Ê.Ê. and kiss my ass, because your girlfriend still loves me." Or maybe she just doesn't waste a lot of energy pondering the intent and motivation behind a song. Maybe she just knows a good beat when she hears it.