The mingling of art and money is a tricky thing. While critics fawn over lo-fi darlings Devendra Banhart and Cody ChesnuTT, hinting that such artists tap into something more “essential” and unspoiled by the industry, the reality is that artists don’t live in a vacuum. And where there’s hype, there often follows funds. So what to do when the corporations come-a-calling? Get a spectacular light show? A rider full of pink M&Ms and imported pigs’ feet? A string symphony to add the swell you always wanted but never reached with the Casio?
Fueled by the deep pockets of Sire, Pawn Shoppe Heart is the Von Bondies’ third release on just as many labels (2001 bred Lack of Communication on Sympathy for the Record Industry; 2003 offered Raw and Rare on Dim Mak). So, have the extra funds diluted the music? No. Pawn Shoppe Heart is a grand, tight and rocking album.
Moving on. Not only have the Von Bondies stepped into the label big-leagues with Pawn, they’ve also reworked their production-booth lineup. Relieving Jack White of his previous duties, they employ producer Jerry Harrison (Talking Heads, Modern Lovers) and mixer John Goodmanson (Blonde Redhead, the Catheters, Sleater-Kinney) on Pawn. To further stir up the process, they left the dreary machinery of Motor City to record in the dreamy land of San Francisco.
Thankfully, the crew stayed its course and avoided digressing into jammy, sun-baked, tofu excess. That being said, Pawn has lost some of the rough edges found on previous recordings, but the resulting sound is anything but sterile. Jason Stollsteimer’s crooning is still as fierce as it is mournful while he leads the Von Bondies in their attempt to deliver an album of “full-on, guitar-overdriven, real rock ‘n’ roll” (or so the press release tells us).
And do they deliver? Yes. Need proof? Consider the album’s kicking single, “C’Mon C’Mon,” with its funky bass line and jolting call-and-response chorus; the doomy blues (and spot-on howl) of the title track; bassist Carrie Smith’s lead vocals on “Not That Social”; and the buzzing guitars, relentless, stomping percussion, and attitude-heavy refrain of “No Regrets”: “You know you really haven’t lived life yet / If you ain’t got no regrets.”
Speaking of regrets, it’s a bad sign when a punch gets more press than an album, but despite a couple of sagging tracks (“Maireed,” “Right of Way”) Pawn is a charmingly brash effort that stands its ground against any recent garage-rock revivalist release (even if Stollsteimer cannot).