Yelping and gasping about being number one since 1991 has done little to encourage Jon Spencer and his Blues Explosion mates to actually try to live up to those lofty standards. After the release in 1993 of the robust Extra Width, followed by 1994’s phenomenal Orange, the Blues Explosion were on a rampage, and poised to throw it into high gear and really go places. Ten years and five albums later, Damage does little to get them out of idle.
If one thing can be said of Spencer, who got his start in the mid-’80s as frontman for Pussy Galore, it’s that he knows the recipe for good grooves and great hooks. And this album has its share. But Damage is like a once-great chef trying to remember how to cook, instead just relying on old ingredients: filling the three minutes by repeating the name of your band, naming a couple of cities, proclaiming your band to be number one, ending the chorus with an Elvis-like “Babaay.”
As with the last few releases from the band (which was called Jon Spencer Blues Explosion until releasing this album), Damage suffers from a general lack of inspiration, direction and clarity. “Hot Gossip,” which features Chuck D, feels like a forced political anthem, but without a message (the album also features DJ Shadow, Martina Topley-Bird, Tricky, Dan the Automator). “Burn It Off,” “Mars, Arizona” and “Fed Up and Low Down” have those grab-your-woman-and-move grooves, but those tracks are too few and far between to be worth the price of admission.
Damage is a grainy facsimile of a good Blues Explosion record. If this were 1995 and I hadn’t heard the trio’s other records, I might think they were on to something. But it isn’t, and they aren’t, so don’t bother.