The interesting thing about looking like a rebel is that it gets way easier as you get older. When you’re young, to stand out among your peers you have to be explosive. Leather pants, torn sweaters, a shirt with a picture of a pig with a police cap stomping out a joint shaped like the state of Florida, etc. The expectation is to be loud and casual, so you have to be the MOST loud and the MOST casual. But when you get older, the expectation changes. There is nothing more embarrassing than a dad clinging onto what he wore when he was young, all ill-fitted and overly garish. (I’m looking at you, Bret Michaels.) As one gets older then your rebel spirit can be honed to a keen edge, more a scalpel than a visual sledgehammer. Suddenly it’s an act of rebellion to wear shoes that AREN’T New Balances, or to have a subtle print on one’s shirt that looks like shuriken. To wear a tailored three-piece instead of something fished out of a bin at Men’s Warehouse, “The Only Place You Can Buy Suits By The Pound.”©
The preternaturally charismatic front man of the Jim Jones Revue, no points will be awarded for guessing his name, has taken this lesson to heart. A firm subscriber to the idea that you are Never Fully Dressed Without a Sneer, he’s been redeployed as a drill sergeant/cult preacher on the front lines of the war to reclaim Rock & Roll since returning triumphantly from the punk trenches of the early 1990’s in Thee Hypnotics. I’ve long been a fan of The Jim Jones Revue since Deadshirt Editor-In-Don’t-Call-Me-Chief Dylan Roth gave me their first album and I actually factually melted it inside my car one summer from playing it too many times.
Yes, there is an age at which you must retire the youth-based trappings of Rock and redouble your efforts elsewhere. The irony of The Who still singing “My Generation” has been looked at in more hackneyed publications than this, but you get what I mean. Jones & Co. have instead leaned hard into aging gracefully and by putting aside desperate grabs at youth, the JJR have managed to capture the emotions that make music timeless even as we all turn into rude skeletons. This is not to say their music is for old people. This latest release “The Savage Heart” passes the generally acknowledged Kilmister Scale of Musical Quality, which posits that if your parents don’t like it, It’s Good. I popped on a track while visiting my family recently and my mother covered up her ears as though someone were about to slip a worm into them, followed by vigorous head-shaking.
There is a certain implicit limitation to the Jim Jones gimmick of playing Chuck Berry and Little Richard-style songs with a chainsaw, and that’s that there are only so many recognizable early rock ‘n roll tropes to draw off of. After two albums of songs that peel the paint off of churches when played in close proximity, there is a challenge to continue cannibalizing the past and licking ones’ fingers until there’s nothing but bones or to process everything learned and invent new mechanisms to perpetuate the feeling of this eternally vital music. As with their impeccable fashion sense, The Revue have chosen to age gracefully.
The Savage Heart begins with a song that I highly recommend you all put on when attempting to Get Sexy for an evening out, “It’s Gotta Be About Me.” It’s got all the hallmarks of a JJR song, the barrelhouse piano and the cement-mixer-full-of-caramel-and-knives sound of Jones’ voice washed over me like seeing an old crush who’s done nothing but fill out in the time since you’ve seen her. It sets the tone for the rest of the album: If there is a song that the raunchy main riff is lifted from then I couldn’t tell you what, and yet it sounds so familiar. Everything’s not quite as distorted and overdriven, a bit more bump ‘n grind than the mosh ‘n bash that I was used to from them.
What makes up approximately the first side of the record is so nonstop that if I listen to it without moving around my heart almost vibrates out of my chest in revolt. These tunes beg for the star treatment, like being put over barfight in a post apocalyptic wasteland, the execution of a massive heist of vintage alcohols, the transformation of a modern-day nerd into a take-no-prisoners greaser because of a haunted leather jacket that he finds in a… No, you know what? I’m holding onto all these. You guys go get your own ideas.
The tracks stay all rumpy-pumpy up until “Chain Gang” where they finally take a deep breath and slow down. It’s a bold move! When was the last time AC/DC tried to do a ballad? Whether or not it works may be a matter of personal taste. Coming at it from the angle that how long a chili simmers is as important as the spices, once can see that the slower songs are still replete with the sort of street-walking-cheetah-on-a-leash sexual tension that are at the heart of every Jim Jones Revue song. It’s an important lesson that a growl can do as much as a bark, and the range displayed in tracks like Chain Gang, In and Out of Harm’s Way and Eagle Eye Ball is a great demonstration of that principle.The third single, “7 Times around the Sun,” is just percussion, piano and voices. The fact that it still sounds punk as hell is a tribute to their mastery of the craft.
And then there’s the final track. “Midnight Oceans & The Savage Heart”. The most tender song these guys have ever put to wax and cousin it is like watching Mr. Hyde transform back into Dr. Jekyll. Almost completely guitar-less, this stunning finale is like hearing Bauhaus record a Ronettes song. There’s a certain amount of cognitive dissonance but that only enhances the sweetness as the perpetual bad boy quietly strips off his layers of macho artifice at the end of the night to reveal that he’s not just a barbed wire tornado in a suit.
If you liked the old JJR records then this one may come as a shock, if you’ve never heard them then it’s a surprisingly vulnerable gateway record into their small but distinguished catalogue. Either way, bring a sixer over to my house and we’ll have a listen and hash it out.