As with Royal Trux, the other band to emerge after the breakup of Pussy Galore
, the Blues Explosion's earliest recordings are virtually incomprehensible. The bass-less mix is awash in distorted guitars, precious little backbeat, and howled vocals. In its favor is the music's exciting, improvisatory feel; also true is that it's frequently incoherent and careless, and doesn't hold up well to repeated listenings. It was with the Blues Explosion's 1992 self-titled release and the almost immediate follow-up Crypt Style that the band began to write coherent songs: Spencer adopted an affected blues vocal style, and the band riffed wildly and crashed around him in a bluesy manner.
The Blues Explosion's "breakthrough" came (as it did for Royal Trux) when they began to fold elements of '70s rock and funk into their fractured punk-blues fusion. With the release of Extra Width in 1993, Spencer and company got some air time on MTV
's alt-rock show 120 Minutes with the video for the song "Afro." There was a new emphasis on tight songs, funky backbeats, and loads of catchy riffs and hooks. As for Spencer, he was now singing like a crazed Elvis
impersonator, but, in turn, lost some of the condescending attitude. Live, the band was (and remains) quite a show, generating the kind of sweat and excitement that became anathema to many punk and post-punk bands.
Orange, which was even more accessible than Extra Width (and featured a guest spot from Beck
), netted the band even more fans upon its release in 1994, and began to capture the vibe of their live gigs; 1996's Now I Got Worry and 1998's Acme were also successful, and the latter was an unusually ambitious attempt to take their sound in new directions, mixing in elements of hip-hop and electronica. Spencer and his bandmates also shored up their often shaky blues cred by serving as backing band for R.L. Burnside
on his 1996 album A Ass Pocket of Whiskey. The band took a long hiatus thereafter, only returning four years later with 2002's Plastic Fang and 2004's Damage (the latter their first record for Sanctuary
after a long tenure with Matador
), a pair of relatively polished albums produced by Steve Jordan.
In 2007, JSBX released a collection of their "Jukebox Series" singles for In the Red Records
, after which they went on extended hiatus. The Blues Explosion re-formed to play some shows when their catalog got the deluxe reissue treatment in 2010 via the Shout! Factory
-distributed Major Domo
label (they also released a career-spanning "best-of" set, Dirty Shirt Rock 'n' Roll), and the band issued the "Black Betty" single for Amphetamine Reptile
in 2011. In September of 2012, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion re-emerged with the full-length Meat + Bone. In 2015, JSBX paid homage to their hometown of New York with a new album, Freedom Tower: No Wave Dance Party 2015, recorded at Brooklyn's Daptone House of Soul studio and mixed with help from hip-hop punk producer Alap Momin. ~ John Dougan & Mark Deming, Rovi