Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Danko Jones - Rock And Roll Is Black And Blue [album review]

Released in October

Danko Jones is one of maybe a dozen musical artists whose new album I'll buy without hearing a note off of it beforehand - that's how much I admire his work. By the way, talking or writing about Danko Jones can get a little confusing - it's the name of the lead singer/guitarist, yet it's also become commonplace for the entire band to just be referred to as Danko Jones. Either one works, but for the purpose of clarity, when I use the name I'll be referring to the individual. The group is the second best rock trio to ever come out of Toronto, with a tip of the cap to the city's most famous three-piece, Rush, and apologies to the third place Triumph. Unfortunately, the band is woefully unappreciated in their home town (where they once opened a Rolling Stones warmup gig at the Palais Royale ballroom prior to the Stones' 40 Licks World Tour) and the rest of North America, with breakout success coming for them relatively early in their 17 year career in Scandinavia, particularly in Sweden. 

Danko Jones' latest album is titled Rock And Roll Is Black And Blue, a reference to the generally poor state of rock music these days and if ever there were an apt band to fly the flag for an out-of-fashion-yet-always-resilient genre, it's this hard-nosed group. They're a must-see live band, with the frontman bringing the kind of intensity and commitment to his shows that found him actually detaching one of his retinas on stage in 2006 from the cumulative effect of slapping himself in the face every time the band performed the song "Bring On The Mountain (Become The Mountain)".    

Every one of Danko Jones' previous five full-length studio releases has been good for a minimum of three songs that are killer enough to warrant being staples in the group's setlists a decade from now and their latest doesn't disrupt that trend, with four more grade A songs. First on that list is opening track "Terrified", a prototypical Jones song featuring simplistic heavy guitars, a fat bass sound (from founding member John "JC" Calabrese), and aggressive, loud drumming. The drum stool this time around is occupied by newest member Atom Willard (who's played with Angels & Airwaves, Social Distortion, and The Offspring), which makes him the sixth drummer this band has had, giving Spial Tap a run for their money. As much as I hated to see previous two drummers Dan Cornelius and Damon Richardson exit the fold, Willard's attacking drum style is similar to his predecessors and makes for a seamless transition...let's hope he avoids death by spontaneous combustion. Next up on the list of stellar tracks is "Get Up", then first single "Just A Beautiful Day" (a ripper with a massive-sounding chorus that's stacked with meaty guitars), and lastly, "The Masochist", which echoes the rawness and volatile attitude also conveyed on "The Cross" from Jones' best album, 2003's We Sweat Blood.  

A little less memorable, but still damn fine are "I Don't Care", "You Wear Me Down", "Type Of Girl" (Urge Overkill might be entitled to some royalties, though, considering how much this one nicks the riff from "Sister Havana"), the more commercial-sounding "Always Away" (again borrowing quite liberally from a classic song - this time it's the hammer on/pull-off guitar riff from AC/DC's "Thunderstruck"), "Conceited", and "I Believed In God". The latter track represents a surprising new wrinkle to Jones' mostly static sound by injecting a gospel choir into the mix. It's a little surreal hearing their heavenly voices complementing those of a man known for his over-the-top, swaggering persona and bad behavior-celebrating lyrics (indeed, the words on this one deal with both a higher power and how He pertains to the hot woman Jones lusts after), but the whole thing works quite well. Only two songs failed to win me over: the slower-tempoed "Legs" and "Don't Do This".  

Rock And Roll Is Black And Blue, aside from Jones doing a little more singing and a little less screaming, plus the rare and successful creative risk taken on "I Believed In God", mostly sticks to the trio's formula of power chord-based, punk-infused hard rock with few frills and loads of attitude, along with simple lyrics that unapologetically focus on the fairer sex. As Jones said in last year's fantastic bio doc Bring On The Mountain, "If you look at the development curve of my lyrics, it's one flat line. I've just always written about the same stuff and I always will". Taking a page from the playbooks of some of their most significant influences (AC/DC, The Ramones, and Motรถrhead), Jones, Calabrese, and insert drummer's name here don't really care if you find their unwillingness to evolve very much a negative - this is what you get. If growth and ambitious experimentation from a musical outfit is what you seek, then listen to a Radiohead album.

Rating: B

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