Biography All Music Guide
All Music Guide:
After a long and semi-successful tenure as leader of scuzz-rock heroes Pussy Galore, Jon Spencer took his anti-rock vision and hooked up with guitarist Judah Bauer and drummer Russell Simins to create the scuzz-blues trio the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. Postmodern to the core, this is an ironic name; little of what this band plays resembles standard blues. There is, however, a blues feel to what they play, meaning that in many instances they appropriate aspects of the blues (very often clichés) and incorporate them into their anarchic, noisy sound. Not part of alt-rock's commercial establishment, Spencer also managed to sharply divide critics who tended to see him as either inspired showman or mendacious con man (frankly, he's both). He did, however, gain popularity and critical respect during the '90s.
As with Royal Trux, the other band to emerge after the breakup of Pussy Galore, the Blues Explosion's earliest recordings are virtually incomprehensible (and impossible to find). 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 that the band began to write semi-coherent songs: Spencer adopted an imitation blues vocal style, and the band riffed wildly and crashed around him in a bluesy sort of way. It was mostly fun, but it also seemed like a bit of a put-on, and more than a little smug.
The Blues Explosion's "breakthrough" came (as it did for Royal Trux) when they began to sound like a '70s rock band. 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." The most noticeable change was the new emphasis on tight songs, funky backbeats, and loads of catchy riffs and hooks. As for Spencer, he was now singing like a grade-Z 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, netted the band even more fans upon its release in 1994; 1996's Now I Got Worry and 1998's Acme were also successful. 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. Following this, the Blues Explosion went on extended hiatus. They re-formed to play some shows when their catalog got the deluxe reissue treatment in 2010, 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.