Royal Trux

The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion

Whiteys want to play the blues so badly. And they do.

Both of these bands are offshoots of the ineffably charming Pussy Galore, a band renowned as purveyors of Lower East Side "scum rock". They left behind several albums, including the daintily entitled Dial M For Motherfucker and a reworking of the Rolling Stones' Exile On Mainstreet with all the bad notes left in. Supposedly deliberately playing with complete incompetence and muttering obscenities about "Teen Pussy Power" is really significant and arty, but I suppose you have to live in Greenwich Village to understand that type of thing. The band split after they learned to play their instruments, which went against the concept. I highly doubt anyone would care about either Jon Spencer or Royal Trux if they came from Nebraska; both are much stronger on image than actual music. However, these are two totally different bands, so let's look at a couple of albums I have by them.

Royal Trux: Thank You (1995) **

These guys get good reviews from most publications I've read, and I cannot fathom why. This album is awful, and the fact that part of it's deliberate is not a good excuse. Trux apparently have built their career on rewriting Exile On Main Street complete with shitty production and slurred and buried vocals. The most shocking (and only interesting) discovery found herein is that a Jennifer Herrema sings lead vocals - yep, that's a girl doing those Keith Richards imitations. However, despite the presence of a woman who sounds like a man, she isn't a particularly good vocalist, and co-leader/guitarist Neil Hagerty can't do much besides sludgy Keef imitations on his six-string, either. The songs are pretty tuneless and formless. The lack of good song structures is supposed to be avant-garde, but you have to be very good to pull that conceit off - and Royal Trux don't. If you want second-hand Stones, try the Black Crowes or the Georgia Satellites or somebody. But oh, I forgot, the Crowes and the Satellites aren't "arty" enough about ripping off the Stones. Ex-heroin addict NYC bohemians have been making boring, druggy noise since the Velvet Underground, and these hipsters do not possess the creativity of Sonic Youth. I suspect the real reason a band like this gets good press is because they've got good connections - they probably got stoned with half the staff of Spin and the A.P. Press back in their college days.

Reader Comments


LOVED your review and totally agree. Here's what I don't get - how come everyone else that reviews this band seems to like them? Oh yeh, you might find this interesting. I grew up with Jennifer Herrema in Wash DC - we went to grammar school together. She sings so lousy cuz she is completely tone deaf.


Georgia Satellites!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!


The Jon Spencer Blues Explosion: Orange (1994) ***

Minstrelry and blackface have been mainstays of American culture ever since they brought the first shipment of Africans to Jamestown, and Jon Spencer is currently the leading practitioner of this extremely non-PC mode of expression. For a long time I despised the man and wouldn't even go near his music for those reasons. I still think he's an asshole, a Ivy League educated semiotics major who turns the blues into a smarmy joke, but now I'm willing to sit down and judge the music on its own merits. And some of it's quite good. Spencer is just doing what white boys since the Yardbirds have done: take the blues and distort it with modern technology and your cultural distance, which to my ears is always a lot more interesting than hearing some purist play the same old song ad naseum. Actually, Spencer's sound owes more to Stax/Volt R&B than any other element, and the rattle of Nuggets and Pebbles can be heard, also. Grooving off theremin and his primitive electric guitar (sometimes one-chord), Spencer digs a deep, thick chunk of fatback funk. However, there's one major problem: Spencer can't write songs. Most of these tracks are semi-instrumentals with the occasional chant and shout (he repeats "blues explosion!" all over the place), making it difficult to distinguish between them without glancing at the cover sheet. Every now and then he writes a real song like "Brenda" but mostly this album is one long groove, rarely deviating from the pattern announced by the opener (and strongest cut) "Bellbottoms." At one point Spencer proclaims he's the offspring of "Sister Ray" which isn't the truth - it's obvious he's the progeny of Isaac Hayes.

Reader Comments

Mark Olague,

Goddamn. Man, you guys must be pampered. I realize these articles are a few years old and maybe you've redeemed yourself. But 4 years later who's putting out bettter records? The Royal Trux win this one. I don't know why or how you kids "don't get them". Try working for a living. Remember rock-n-roll and the power of the strut and the scribbles on a tattered, folded up pee-chee tucked in your back pocket? This is the class struggle:Jon Spencer, son of a Yaley, raised in comfort, pandering to black culture (you ever read Terry Southern's 'You're too Hip Baby!'); and Neil and Jen fighting through the trends in West Virginia putting out records that consistently challenge and satisfy. Hey man, I didn't dig "Thank You" either but I hung in there. They rewarded my loyalty with "Accelerator" and now "Veterans". What could you possibly be getting off too: the Beck-isms of "Acme". C'mon can't you tell a dead horse from a live one.

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