"I do not play no blues! I play rock & roll!," Jon Spencer shouted on the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's 1998 album Acme, inverting a much-quoted catchphrase used by delta bluesman Mississippi Fred McDowell in the 1960s.
"We have to keep stressing that," Spencer later elaborated, adding, "We love all different kinds of music, and when we get together to play, that stuff seeps through. The only element we really take from the blues is that we play from what we know, from where we're coming from."
On the new Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's sixth studio album, Plastic Fang, guitarist/vocalist Spencer and his bandmates Judah Bauer (guitar) and Russell Simins (drums) have done what many of the trio's devotees might have considered inconceivable, i.e. made an accessible album that one can imagine appealing to mainstream rock fans without alienating the band's longstanding underground following.
The album marks the first time in its dozen-year existence that these lo-fi standard-bearers have recorded, in a more or less conventional manner, with a producer and engineer - respected veterans Steve Jordan and Don Smith, respectively. The resulting album, rather than blunting the intensity of the band's raw instrumental attack, actually sharpens it, with Spencer delivering some of his most impassioned vocal performances to date.
Spencer first became an indie-rock hero in the second half of the 1980s as leader of seminal noise combo Pussy Galore, whose mutant hybrid of '70s punk and '60s garage rock was supplanted at the turn of the decade by the Blues Explosion's raw explorations of a broader - and, to some degree, older - set of musical reference points. Since then, the JSBX has built a steadily expanding international audience through tireless touring, while consistently reinventing itself on record. Still, Plastic Fang is a major departure, even by the band's own restless standards.
"Before, when we'd record, we'd just have someone record us," Simins notes, explaining that the band built Plastic Fang's broader sonic palette by "changing drums around, changing amps around, understanding that different songs can sound different and will sound better if they sound different. To me, that felt like the way a record should be made."