Stranded In Stereo: My Formative Years: Orange by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, 1994

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

My Formative Years: Orange by The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion, 1994

1-2 the drums and guitars go in unison. 3-4 the subtle strings slowly rise, hiding no more. The band wails as the lights flicker and strobe across the stage, tied up in combat with the string section. And just when it reaches its climax, a shift. The tempo dramatically changes after the exclamation of "The Blues Explosion!" The canned crowd roars. Spencer goes on to discuss the opening track's topic, "Bellbottoms," before the third act approaches. A dynamic rave-up that finds Spencer in his trademark delivery that I've always compared to a mixture of James Brown and Elvis Presley with the swagger of Mick Jagger for good merit.

And that was just the first song.

In the folklore that is My Formative Years the novelization, Orange would've almost ended our story four years after its release in 1998. When the album originally came out in 1994, it was mainstream folk like Weezer and Pearl Jam seeping in to my psyche, forever making that impression that helps me continue to be a fan to this day (the latter, by and large, the former - not so much from my recent scribes on that new album they have.) At some point between the album's release in pristine shiny digipak, line drawing of a Theremin and the words Blues Explosion draped in the title's color palette and the day I would own it, that cartoon introduced me to them. Beavis & Butt-Head weren't just for a good laugh, but sometimes for some interesting music. The one band I took away from the dozen or so episodes I cared to watch in my youth was that of the Blues Explosion, JSBX for short. The video for "Dang," in all its glory clocking in at 1:48, made this all possible, this obsession fully realized. Poorly shot, cheaply edited by way of the UFO on a string, something just entranced me. I never heard it before - dissonance in popular music. Chug-a-lug, chug-a-lug went the drums, the guitar responded to Spencer's muffled announcements. The harmonica in the chorus squealed, leaving way for that Theremin from the album's cover.

That song was the least of my interest. The second half has the trifecta, the 1-2-3 punch that rivals anything in their catalog. "Dissect" makes its grand entrance with Russell Simins' pounding of the skins. "Blues X Man" was the song that made me realize that, yes, they name check themselves quite a bit, in a 1960s revivalist kind of way, and I love every bit of the shtick. "Don't ya / want a / Man like the / Blues Explosion!" The production so raw, how the vocals are all up in the mix and muffled and buried in the right channel. This was my introduction the world of lo-fi, yet the band tried to escape it leaps and bounds by being something hi-fi in said lo-fi world.

But it was the finale of the above trifecta, "Full Grown," that has got to be one of the best JSBX songs. Maybe an all-time favorite song of mine. I mean, what's more humorous than a song starting right off with a bass drum and the declaration, "Baby, baby, you so like to fuck!" by Spencer before Simins and guitarist Mr. Judah Bauer repeat the expletive! And finally, when you think the sonic assault is going to thrall you like the vocals, nothing. The loud 4/4 drums continue, introducing handclaps and a nice rockabilly guitar lick. Deep moog note sneaking in here and there.

After that you needed no more, it should've ended right there, with the instruments dropping out, save for the off-key moog, and the expletive again. Instead, we get a shout out to Matador head honcho and a phoned in Beck cameo ("Flavor"), and the instrumental outro that is the bastard child of "Low Rider" ("Greyhound").

So, with this all being said, sweat pulsing down my forehead from just thoughts of this record being put on, you should only have the same urge to yell "Blues Explosion!" that I do at the moment. They continued this trend through a few more albums, where they somewhat succeeded (Now I Got Worry) and not so much (the experimental Acme, the swan song Damage). Nothing since 1994 has seemed to touch what they unleashed upon that world that year, and I doubt nothing ever will.

Buy Orange [here]

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