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Political turmoil has often had that effect. It's no accident that the boom years of the second Clinton administration witnessed the diffusion of rock energy into experimentation with technology. Even the Blues Explosion got involved. While the move from Xtra-Acme USA to Plastic Fang is not of the same order as the Rolling Stones' return to earth on 1968's Beggars Banquet, Plastic Fang still sports the aura of a back-to-basics record. The songs are shorter, tighter and groovier than those that appeared on band's last few albums. And despite Simins' distinction between the Blues Explosion and bands like the Strokes and the White Stripes, the new record displays a stronger pop sensibility. Asked to summarize Plastic Fang, Spencer described it as "our most consistent record. Thematically, musically, sonically, it really is a whole."
Responding to reports that producer Steve Jordan reigned in the band's rhythmic eccentricities -- whereas all previous Blues Explosion records were self-produced -- Simins argues that the songs themselves dictated this approach. "It's better that they have a certain steadiness to them, even without compromising the energy," he says. "To be short about it, Plastic Fang is a more straightforward record that showcases the rock side of our band and has less playing around with the songs and fucking them up."
From one angle, these comments could be viewed as a sign of retrenchment. After all, when bands have a track record as long as the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion's, it becomes easier to go through the motions. But Simins insists that the concept is still fresh. Explaining why the Blues Explosion has never deviated from the two-guitarists-and-a-drummer format, he admits that a bass player would come in handy at times but concludes, "It's not what we're about. The Blues Explosion has always been that way. I think we do a good job of making up for the absence of bass, especially on our records. And if there were a bass player, we wouldn't be able to be as exciting and over-the-top as we are. I think it would get in the way. Our format keeps things cruising at a certain speed. There's a certain craziness to our live show."
It will be interesting to see how the relative restraint of Plastic Fang translates into live performance. The band has been touring the songs for months, so all the details have been worked out by now. Will the steadiness of the record come undone? There's an awfully good chance that it will. But the result is bound to satisfy. Perhaps the most-refreshing thing about the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion is its members' candor. They know how good they are. Asked for any parting thoughts, Simins describes watching a video of a recent Blues Explosion concert at the Brixton Academy in London.
"I was like, Wow.' It really blew me away. And I don't often say that when I see footage of us. I'm very proud of us as a rock band, how we've stuck together, and I think we're only getting better." He also has some advice for the public: "We're one of the greatest live rock bands. It's really important to see us play."