The scene in David Lynch’s 1950s set film Blue Velvet where the innocent teenager Kyle MacLachlan hides in a wadrobe, watching on as Dennis Hopper sexually humiliates Isabella Rossellini is one of the most harrowing in cinema. Peering through a crack in the door he sees Hopper, complete with oxygen mask, bend down in front of Rossellini, swearing and sweating as he sweeps aside the veneer of the rock ‘n’ roll era to reveal the dark, deviant real world underneath.
That look of shock in MacLachlan’s eyes is something that Jon Spencer has been looking to recreate in his audiences throughout his career. From his bands Pussy Galore to the Blues Explosion and now Heavy Trash, his rockabilly collaboration with guitarist Matt Verta-Ray, Spencer has been specialising in producing his unique brand of down-right dirty, out-of-control rock ‘n’ roll.
While Heavy Trash’s third album Midnight Soul Serenade can never recreate the power of seeing Spencer live it is an album that will not disappoint his loyal followers.
Take the track ‘The Pill’, a dark, filthy tale of sex and drugs in a hotel room. “I took the pill and slipped it underneath my tongue, you took yours and passed me the bottle. The hotel bedspread was a mess of colours, looked like somebody had thrown-up.” While Elvis’s hotel had heartbreak, Spencer’s has pills, booze and vomit.
Among the best tracks on an album, that faithfully recreates the 1950s rock and roll production style, is ‘(Sometimes You got To Be) Gentle’. The track would not have sounded out of place during the peak of Spencer’s Blue Explosion era and is among the dirtiest on the album. Lyrics such as ‘Stick it up inside, You got to be gentle. And push it up, You gotta to be sweet’, leave absolutely nothing to the imagination. Other high points include a cover of LaVern Baker’s frenetic 1950s track ‘Bumble Bee’.
Midnight Soul Serenade is a thrilling listen, not the kind of thing you can play in front of your mum, or a vicar, but wasn’t that always the point of rock ‘n’ roll?
by Joe Lepper, Oct 2009