Starting with 1993’s raw, fiery Extra Width, the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion embarked on a streak of solid, chaotic rock ‘n’ roll records that would find them at the peak of their powers. That album, their second, found the NYC trio reaching their potential as a soulful, messy punk-blues outfit, while 1996’s Now I Got Worry added more straightforward hooks, and 1998’s Acme, added experimentation with electronics. Yet 1994’s Orange, their big Matador debut, is often heralded as their greatest album, front-to-back, and with good reason. It’s one of the fiercest and intense rock ‘n’ roll albums to be released in the 1990s.
From its release, there was something immediately iconic about Orange. Despite its title, a reference to the vintage amplifier brand, the album cover is actually silver, and for that matter, reflective, a pretty neat effect even if it revealed its own flaws after regular wear and tear. And the album titles, save for three tracks, all consisted of one word: “Dang,” “Ditch,” “Flavor,” etc. Everything about the album seemed to indicate that the band were not messing around, a suggestion that the blazing garage rock on the album’s 13 tracks essentially confirmed. This was rock ‘n’ roll, but far more incendiary than Mick ‘n’ Keef ever imagined.
Reissued in a double-disc package with its accompanying “Experimental Remixes” on the eve of its 16th birthday, Orange still sounds as explosive and overwhelming as it did when it was first issued way back in 1994. As opening tracks go, it’s hard to get more kickass than “Bellbottoms.” The start-stop timing of the band, the disco strings, the manic howls of Spencer himself – everything about the song exemplifies the group’s unstoppable showmanship. It’s a hard act to follow, really, though that doesn’t stop the remainder of Orange from containing some of the best songs in the band’s catalog, from the raucous garage rock of “Ditch,” to the harmonica screaming “Dang,” the falsetto hooks of “Brenda” and the funky riffs of “Flavor.”
Proving once again just how overwhelmingly huge the Jon Spencer Blues Explosion’s catalog is, this reissue of Orange is packed with all kinds of extra goodies. There are several alternate versions of album tracks, a 17-minute “tour diary” and a whole disc’s worth of remixes, including the “Flavor” remix by Beck and Mike D that featured a video paying homage to Run-DMC and Aerosmith’s “Walk This Way.” Moby’s reworking of “Greyhound” turns the track into a fuzzy industrial stomp, while GZA’s take on the same song is a characteristically dark and ominous hip-hop beatdown. Particularly bizarre is “Explo – Plunderphonic,” which finds the band’s material chopped up into completely unrecognizable parts, save for Spencer’s “yeaaahhh!” Yet Prince Paul’s “Blues ‘XXX’ Man” injects some characteristic whimsy and humor, not to mention a whole lot of scratching.
On its own, Orange is a furious rock record that still thrashes with all the intensity and sweat it did in 1994. Yet the bonus material included here is, if not as essential, a wonderful addition to an already enjoyable piece of music. What the added remixes display, however, is that as much as JSBX stood for everything great about rock ‘n’ roll music, they were unafraid to embrace other genres, other styles and other techniques. And no matter who touched their tracks, mangled them and reconstructed them, the soul and the power of the Blues Explosion always came out on top.
The White Stripes – De Stijl
The Rolling Stones – Exile on Main Street
The Cramps – Psychedelic Jungle
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.