So, I just about suffered a heart attack when I saw Joan Jett & the Blackhearts‘ new album, Unvarnished, on iTunes this week. I am a BIG fan, but I didn’t even know this album was in the works, let alone available for download! Anyway, Joan Jett is one of the most influential women in rock, and, without her (solo or with The Runaways), most of the music I love wouldn’t even exist today. “Bad Reputation”, an anthem for all once and future rock chicks, is a great song, for sure, as are all her other ’80s hits. But, for me, Joan Jett‘s more recent work is her best, like Pure and Simple (1994), Sinner (2006), and even her re-recorded versions of The Runaways‘ “You Drive Me Wild” and “School Days” from Greatest Hits (2010).
On Sinner, Jett‘s first studio album after 11 years, she showed maturity in her signature sound that was befitting a rock icon of her age, but, on Unvarnished, her 10th album, Jett steps back 30 years, strips away the gloss, and kicks out some raw, riff-heavy rock, punk and glam, sounding like she’s 20-years-old all over again! This album has a retro Jett feel, but, it still sounds as fresh as any of the new Jett-worshipping rock bands that I love to post about on this blog, like Zoe Vette & the Revolvers, The Rough Hearts, The Anti-Queens, etc. Joan Jett‘s influence is undeniable, but, with Unvarnished, she proves that, at 55 years old, her own music still matters.
Unvarnished is definitely my favorite album of 2013 (so far)!
“Any Weather (606 Version)”, the first single, was co-written and recorded with Dave Grohl, who played “100 instruments,” at his Studio 606, and, it sounds like a lost ’70s power pop classic! The Deluxe Edition of the album includes a slightly different version of the song recorded with The Blackhearts. The Ramones-y “Soulmates to Strangers” was co-written with Against Me!‘s Laura Jane Grace (formerly Tom Gabel), whom Jett met on Warped Tour 2006 and has supported ever since. In “Soulmates to Strangers”, love is lost, but, on “Bad As We Can Be”, love is found again. We can all relate to love, but, some tracks, on Unvarnished, are more personal. Both “Hard to Grow Up” and “Fragile” address Jett‘s life and her mother’s death (in 2010), while “Make It Back” speaks of the devastation caused by Hurricane Sandy. But, despite the subject matter, those songs still rock! Other good tracks are the glam rocker “TMI”, in which Jett slams social networking, the garage punker “Reality Mentality”, in which she aims her sights on reality television, and the pop/rocker “I Know What I Know” (a Deluxe Edition bonus track), which wouldn’t be out of place on a mix with Sinner‘s tracks. Finally, “Everybody Needs a Hero”, the album’s only ballad, adds some strings and horns for an enjoyably uncharacteristic diversion.
Watch Joan Jett & the Blackhearts perform “Any Weather” live here: