I know this may sound like blasphemy to many, but I find Joan Jett to be the musical equivalent of Paris Hilton. Hear me out: The two are ostensibly dissimilar, but both are recognizable, famous, infamous and held in varying degrees of esteem. And like the heiress, it’s hard to pinpoint just why Jett is recognizable, famous, infamous and held in somewhat high esteem.
Sure, Jett was a founding member of a seminal girl group, the Runaways, which found respect posthumously, thanks to recent name-checking by artists and critics. (Don’t forget: The Runaways had little impact outside of Japan during its short existence.) Jett’s wiry frame and unmistakable black ‘do served as the cornerstone of early MTV, thanks to her emblematic black-and-white video for karaoke favorite “I Love Rock-n-Roll.” Her take-no-prisoners ethos certainly inspired a whole legion of girls to pick up guitars, but don’t forget that she didn’t write any of the songs she is known for. From her junior high rendition of Tommy James & The Shonells’ “Crimson and Clover” to her revved-up take on the legally embattled Gary Glitter’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah)” and the Arrow’s “I Love Rock-n- Roll,” Jett has consistently proved herself to be little more than a lounge act cloaked in leather and studs. (She apparently co-authored “I Hate Myself for Loving You” with legendary songsmith Desmond Child, but its provenance seems dubious to me.)
So what can we expect from a perennial cover-er such as Jett on an album composed almost entirely of songs she wrote or co-wrote? More of the mediocre songs that flanked “Crimson and Clover,” “Do You Wanna Touch Me (Oh Yeah),” and “I Love Rock-n-Roll,” I suppose. The follow-up to Jett’s attempt at industrial metal (1999’s Fetish), Sinner is an unabashed return to the sleazy rock stylings that made her a household name (undeservedly, some would say). Although “A.C.D.C.’s” biographical subject matter (Jett’s bisexuality) serves as an interesting take on rock ‘n’ roll philandering, its predictable garage-band arrangement is unfulfilling. Unfortunately, these uninspired 1-4-5 chord progressions dominate Sinner.
“Naked” has a happy rhythm, but its harmonically challenged verses prove its undoing. (Unless, of course, you’re a fan of the rare two-and-a-half interval and the uncontrollable grimacing it causes.) “Watersign” drags like an over-weighted lure, and both “Change the World” and “Tube Talkin'” are evidence of Jett’s unimaginative songwriting and tired delivery — she sounds happier than ever, which detracts from any snarling punk rock she may wish to create. And “Riddles,” “A.C.D.C.,” and “Everyone Knows” all rely on the hand clap — the musical equivalent of a laugh track.
A testament to its insipidness, Sinner made me think not about Jett or her lengthy career, but her Runaways bandmate, Lita Ford. So I did some checking and found out Ford didn’t even write “Kiss Me Deadly.” Who can you believe these days? I guess I’ll take solace in the fact Jett and Ford have yet to team up for a Simple Life-like series. Now that’s a license to print money.
Band (streaming audio): http://www.joanjett.com/