Top positive review
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No varnish required (although it does have a dodgy finish...)
on 1 November 2013
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts will always be known first and foremost for their cover of an Arrows song that became the beat-driven shout-a-long template for the every band should have one style of song of the early to mid 80's.
Hits such as 'Crimson and Clover,' 'I Hate Myself For Loving You' and 'Cherry Bomb' (from Joan Jett's days with The Runaways) certainly made an impact, but it was that 1981 platinum selling single that launched Miss Jett's solo career - to such a degree that it has become her anthem.
More than thirty years on Joan Jett & The Blackhearts are still a fairly constant touring attraction but new material has been a rarer sighting - prior to the release of Unvarnished, Jett's tenth solo album, you have to look to 2006 for Sinner (which included ten tracks from the 2004 Japanese only release Naked) and all the way back to 1994 for Pure and Simple.
But where albums such as Sinner/ Naked were decidedly hit and miss, Unvarnished is the equal of Pure and Simple and arguably superior.
Its big guitar, no frills sound (driven by the incessant energy and beat of Joan Jett's long-time drummer Thommy Price) hearkens back to the post Runaways/ early Joan Jett sound; it delivers in fine throwback style, primarily because of strong material and an uncluttered, intentionally Unvarnished sonic.
'Any Weather (606 version),' Joan Jett's collaborative number with Dave Grohl, captures that traditional Blackhearts sound. It comes complete with a rhythmic rock and roll pulse, a sprinkling of "hey!" and "woh-oh-oh" chants and a catchy chorus of staying together ("through any weather").
An alternative version of the song appears on the vinyl edition of the album.
Every Joan Jett & The Blackhearts album needs a chuggy guitar, big beat and clap-a-long number and 'Tmi' (too much info, for those who were wondering) is Unvarnished's offering (a live version features as one of the bonus tracks on the deluxe edition of the album).
'Soulmates to Strangers,' written by Laura Jane Grace, is a perfect hard power-pop fit for the album but the album truly makes its mark with throwback songs such as the Ramones-ish 'Bad as We Can Be' and the punky brashness of 'Reality Mentality.'
There is a little varnish on offer however - strings feature on the heavy, mid-tempo swagger of 'Fragile' and the final track 'Everybody Needs a Hero.'
The latter is a either a nice change of pace or an ill-fitting end to the album, depending on how black you like your hearts to be.
Unvarnished finds Joan Jett in fine form. With the exception of 'Everybody Needs a Hero' the songs are punchy, brash and high-energy; it's also an album that makes me realise why I Love Rock 'n' Roll.
Damn. Nearly got through the entire review without mentioning it by name.