At Lollapalooza in New York in 1995, Thurston Moore, of Headliners Sonic Youth, proclaimed Jon Spencer to be the king of New York as he dedicated a song to him. 20 years later comes Freedom Tower - No Wave Dance Party 2015, the new album from Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. The king of New York tells stories about his city with the help of trusty sidekicks Judah Bauer and Russell Simins. They know the streets, the bars, the sweltering summers, the freezing winters, the rock and the roll. Watch out - this is the real deal!
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CD £9.99 BR42
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8/10 Chris Customer review, 30th March 2015
As a long term Blues Explosion fan I received the news of this new album with a sense of excitement and concern. Their initial comeback album 'Meat + Bone' was solid, but on the whole fairly uninspiring. There have definitely been a few duds staining their long career (looking at you 'Plastic Fang'), my hopes dashed each time - I wasn't prepared to let myself get hurt like that again so I approached this one with caution. One source of hope came from the knowledge that with 'Meat + Bone' they'd returned to a more traditional 'band in a room' production style. The cut and paste methods that served them pretty well when employed on 'ACME' were a bit tired by the time 'Damage' rolled along. As anyone who has seen them can attest, they are an insanely good live act, so why on Earth would you get Ultimate Powerhouse Drummer Russell Simins to play one bar of music (however funky it may be) just so DJ Shadow can loop it?!
On 'Freedom Tower' they've gone for a similar 'live' sound and then some. It sounds incredible! The drums are fresh and crisp, the guitars recorded beautifully. Odd flourishes of showy production add style to the substance. Stylistically they seem to have addressed their entire back catalogue and added a few other choice elements that pay tribute to their beloved NYC (I don't remember any previous JSBX album featuring them intoning "dance, yeah, uh-huh" over a disco beat?). In many cases they manage to pack several of these style shifts into a single three minute song to great effect. On first listen this is probably the greatest development from Meat + Bone, their fearless approach to structure that is reminiscent of their Orange-era peak. Several times I found myself shrugging my way through a track, only to have it turn on me with a maniacal grin and have me screaming "YEAH YEAH YEAH YEAH" right along with them.
This element of surprise is a wonderful thing. I've seen a back-handed criticism bandied about in the press that the Blues Explosion are single-mindedly about mining a groove and not to be considered songwriters. But groove management is its own form of songwriting and it has no time for the more traditional (square) terms normally associated with "the craft", such as 'verse' or 'chorus'. To truly understand the structure of a Blues Explosion track you'd need some sort of complex energy measuring device and a fancy chart. The Blues Explosion are the true masters of knowing when to give it to you good and when to leave you in anticipation of the next blast. The only track on the whole album that left me with the sense of ennui that beset a few of 'Meat + Bone''s tracks was 'Bellevue Baby' and 1 out of 13 ain't bad.
Though it still doesn't quite stand up to the standard set by the likes of 'Orange' and 'Now I Got Worry' (both 10/10 any day of the week), 'Freedom Tower' is better than I had any right to expect and is a very welcome return to form from a band which is still utterly unique after a long time in the biz.
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