Jon Spencer & the HITmakers
Spencer Gets It Lit LP
(Bronze Rat Records)
After breaking and then building upon the first new and surprisingly fertile ground that the guitarist had touched in years with Spencer Sings The Hits! in 2018, Jon Spencer has continued on the same creative terrain with Spencer Gets It Lit. For any other musician, such a statement could sound unsurprising and/or unexciting but – with a well-established history of changing forms and styles with the release of each successive release already on the books for Spencer [albums which feature the guitarist’s name sound exactly exactly like what fans expect as well as sounding like nothing he’s tried before –ed] but, for Jon Spencer, the interest in continuing to develop an idea past a single album feels revelatory and might speak volumes about the value and potential that the guitarist sees in the work.
As soon as the monstrous drone which opens “Junk Man” sounds to open the A-side of Spencer Gets It Lit, listeners’ minds will be snapped to attention and, when the searing tone of the keyboards sets up for contrast and Spencer spits the words, “Come on” to get the song moving, listeners will be set and invested in the movement – right off, “Junk Man” feels like an event or a happening. The song upholds that vibe too; as Spencer dismisses taste-makers (“You talk about gold, but you’re selling trash”) and romanticizes spitting in their “pretty little face,” anyone who ever battled an inferiority complex will be ready to stand up and cheer – and try to learn how exactly the singer is able to cross the tones of a sneer and a howl, and do both as though he’s about ready to spit so well. “Get It Right Now” keeps the energy level set by “Junk Man” up nicely and makes believers out of those listening when Spencer growls, “Mick Jagger’s got nothing on me,” but the lower intestine-rattling low end which runs through “The Worst Facts” is the real proof that the inspiration of Spencer Gets It Lit is working. While it’s true that Spencer has never shied away from an instrument which can provide some low end for the mix in one of his songs, bass has always felt like a novelty – like a inconsistent disturbance. Here though. The low end in the song feels like a solid, immovable entity in “The Worst Facts,” and the effect (both on the song as well as on Spencer’s sound, in general) is absolutely phenomenal. As “The Worst Facts” plays, Spencer and the HITmakers dare listeners to deviate their attention from what they’re doing as vocal lines bounce hard between the left and right channels and Spencer’s sinewy guitar just meanders around the mix aimlessly, occupying every little space in the mix that it can for a few seconds and then moving again, every time it gets pushed out. In print, it might sound messy and it is – the HITmakers make no mistake about the fact that this song was likely born as the tape rolled – but listeners will not be able to deny both how accessible and how gratifying the play of “The Worst Facts” is, when they hear it.
After “The Worst Facts” leaves listeners rattled, “Primary Baby” seems to deepen the plot by wanting to revisit Spencer’s tenure with Pussy Galore complete with a drum effect which sounds like it was played on plate metal, but attached to a finer groove which is just intoxicating. There, Spencer’s guitar slithers along beautifully as the song makes its way down to Florida with the singer’s “primary baby” in tow, but still doesn’t get too far from the point as “Worm Town” trips and staggers along with no clear direction but a perfectly self-evident purpose in mind to close the side. Again, it’s hard to not think that “Worm Town” wasn’t born as the tape rolled during the making of …Gets It Lit, but it’s impossible to argue with the results; as it plays, listeners will be happy to follow the band right through the side’s run-out as Spencer confesses that he’s “got to get back,” and his guitar comes closer to sounding like a bass in tone than it ever has before in the last thirty-seven years.
While it’s far enough from “similar” that it’s not in any danger of getting accused of being self-piracy, listeners will be floored to discover how close the tone and tingle of “Bruise” is to that of “Mean Heart,” from the Blues Explosion’s landmark 2002 album, Plastic Fang. Unlike on “Mean Heart” though, “Bruise” seems to jump with a fuller and more complete sound and really benefits from the alterations which have been made to the form; while certainly not as raucous as that which Spencer has proven to be previously capable, it tees up the side very well and, combined with the dronier “Layabout Trap” which follows it, gets listeners hungry for the chef’s special that is “Strike 3,” which arrives late on the side but is just the thing to satiate listeners’ hunger. There, Spencer manages to sound surprisingly “All-American” as mention of baseball and hotdogs make their way clearly into the song’s lyrical discussion, but still manages to balance that with some good, old-fashioned doom (“We’re gonna die!”) included for good measure.
By the time “Get Up & Do It” begins and the side is at its end, Jon Spencer must feel his back pressing against the wall and so really goes for broke on the album’s closing track. There, Spencer and the HITmakers angle their way toward a shimmy shake which could probably use a little more oomph added to its performance to make its point, but plays alright, overall; when the song ends and the needle lifts, those who have run front-to-back with Spencer Gets It Lit will be ready to flip the record over and do the whole thing again.
“So is Spencer Gets It Lit an able successor to the grandeur which was the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion in its prime,” you ask? It might sound trite, but the album tells listeners exactly what it is, right on its face (or rather, front cover): Spencer Gets It Lit feels like the sound of the fuse burning toward something spectacular, but it is not the explosion. There’s no question that it’s a good album and expresses some great growth on Jon Spencer’s part, but it leaves off the orgasmic sensation that fans have come to expect. Spencer Gets It Lit is hot and heavy, but fans will need to hang around and see what’s coming on the singer’s next release, if they want to finish. [Bill Adams]
The Spencer Gets It Lit LP by Jon Spencer & the HITmakers is out now. Buy it here, directly from Bronze Rat Recordings.