There is something unashamedly ‘classic’ about Freedom Tower – No Wave Dance Party 2015, the new album from the legendary Jon Spencer Blues Explosion. There have been no drastic changes made to the band’s sound: things here sound mighty similar to the band’s work in the nineties. But if something’s not broken, why fix it? Rather than stapling a series of gimmicks onto songs under the guise of sounding ‘modern’, Spencer and his cohort turn their backs on the superfluous tricks of the contemporary trade, in the process producing a lean, mean, brilliantly nasty little record that also happens to be their finest work in a decade.
Spencer has built his career by making distinctly primal rock and roll: his music bypasses the head and socks you straight in the gut. So it goes with all of the songs on Freedom Tower, but particularly the brilliant and abrasive Wax Dummy. Over guitar solos as rough and dangerous as a rusty machete, Spencer alternates between a scatty, hip hop influenced delivery, and a seductive snarl. It’s sexy, dirty, and if it had teeth, it’d be going straight for your throat.
Spencer keeps the songs admirably brief. The album’s longest track, Crossroad Hop sits at a modest four minutes, but on the whole tracks whip past with all the speed of a beer glass hurled in a brawl. The hypnotic and violent The Ballad of Joe Buck lasts a mere one minute forty three seconds. Mixing up blues and garage rock influences, it careens and careers around the place with genuinely thrilling force.
It would be wrong to imply that the album is one note, however: although a stimulating mix of aggression and beauty dominates the proceedings, at times things do come to feel almost elegiac. Though Tales of Old New York rattles with danger, the force of its rage is directed at the passage of time itself. Things that once were are that way no longer, and Spencer mourns them, albeit in his own distinct way.
Freedom Tower – No Wave Dance Party 2015 is a hissing, spitting thrill of a record, full of the kind of dirty rock and roll that makes you worry about the eternal souls of those who brought it to life. It’s mean, but never unpleasant; it’s harsh, but never distancing. It’s a jagged, vicious masterwork; a frothing dog on the end of a chain that is one strained link away from breaking.