Jon Spencer Blues Explosion PhotoAfter 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 alternarock'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 throughout 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 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 alternarock 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 is 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. Still, there is a compelling argument to be made that despite his hip credentials, Spencer is more style than substance. Love him or loathe him (and it's easy to do both), he's a force to be reckoned with. ~ John Dougan, All Music Guide