Very early on, it becomes apparent that Amsterdam Throwdown, King Street Showdown is less a collaboration of Solex (a.k.a Elisabeth Esselink), Jon Spencer, and Christina Martinez and more a straight Solex album backed by the American underground rock stars. That will no doubt be a dissappointment to more than a few American listeners, because it’s the first major release by Christina Martinez since Boss Hog’s 2000 Whiteout. It’s also the first non-Heavy Trash album by Spencer since Blues Explosion’s 2004 album, Damage. On both those albums, Spencer and Martinez began experimenting much more with keyboards and synths than they had previously, something that offended their more purist punk fans (as oxymoronic as that sounds in 2010, it was a very real thing in the ’90s).
So on paper, Solex vs. Christina Martinez + Jon Spencer seemed like a great idea for a collaboration. All three are fine artists who were itching for a new release after being exiled from Matador. The mock-duel format seemed like a good idea; Spencer and Martinez, after all, have been mock dueling since the early days of Pussy Galore a quarter century ago. But Amsterdam Throwdown, sadly, failes to live up to its potential. Spencer and Martinez contribute their distinct vocals, none of which have aged at all. Martinez’s work on “Fire Fire” in particular and the complementary Spencerian faked twang are good representations of what made Boss Hog so great. “Galaxy Man,” released on the Internet early on, is perhaps the best example of the three’s peak chemistry.
But after the album’s first three tracks, Solex really starts to take over, and it turns out to be a less than stellar effort. There are some very solid efforts in the album’s second half, and one of the benefits of the album is an contagious energy of fun. But none of the tracks amount to anything approaching the kind of significance of Solex’s earlier material, a product probably more of changing times than weakened quality (though musically, this is not a highlight of Solex’s catalog. Spencer and Martinez are mostly buried in the mix later on, something that seems natural for an electronic album, but not so much for a Spencer/Martinez project.
The disappointment is not on a massive scale, and with the newly revived interest in Blues Explosion, none of these artists is going to lose any fans. (Solex may even pick up a few.) But it’s still a rather frustrating album that doesn’t live up to its clear promise.