By Matt Jones
The great Skip James once said “The peak season is extended, basically”. In a clichéd search for an inspirational quote from a blues legend to introduce The Jim Jones Revue’s latest album, this is the best I could find. It is not actually a quote from the great blues musician Nehemiah Curtis ‘Skip’ James, but from Captain Skip James, great only for his expert fishing advice and skipping along on the reputation of an (arguably) greater man. The Savage Heart similarly takes explicit influence from the blues, but unlike the Captain, The Jim Jones Revue have their own, more powerful engine, and are “exploring new musical and lyrical territory” with it. It is a new turn for these established rock and rollers, but fortunately, “The peak season is extended, basically” (sort of works…right?).
At the risk of committing a Romney-esque gaffe, the blues has always had a certain savagery about it – diving down deep to grab the darkest grievances and brutality of men, and bringing them to the surface through striking chords and bestial growls. The opening track ‘It’s Gotta Be About Me’ resuscitates this ancient beat of ‘the savage heart’ – creeping up on the listener through a sinister, driving piano riff. It is perhaps as poppy as JJR get and is a perfect intro song – and has understandably become BBC 6music’s flag-bearer for the album, accordingly.
However, the early-mid part of the album is perhaps the most interesting, showing that the band is not afraid of experimentation. ‘7 Times Around the Sun’ is a personal favourite in this regard, starting as a rather conventional rock drum-beat but quickly joined by a chain-gang style chant which is completed with unexpected but more-than-welcome boogie-woogie piano. The song is simultaneously a three-minute-forty history lesson in the evolution of rock and roll and a very original hybrid of many styles. ‘Where Da Money Go?’ is more familiar JJR territory, with a characteristic garage rock and roll feel and a catchy, trashed riff. But let it be said that this is far from the Black Keys or Jack White – Jim Jones’ guttural screams reminding me why these guys were the ones supporting Geno Washington when I first saw them in Latitude 2010.
That said, the band show again that they are much more than this through slower and more gentle songs like ‘Chain Gang’ and the closing ‘Midnight Oceans & The Savage Heart’. The latter is perhaps the most unusual track on the album, seeing the band’s otherwise rather lively take on the blues stripped down to a rather melancholy ballad that sounds like what you might get if you locked Nick Cave, Lou Reed and Lana del Rey in the same studio. Nonetheless, it kind of works and shows that the savage heart can be a tender one, also.
Reeling things in, The Savage Heart is a brave and exciting step in the deep end for The Jim Jones Revue, showing that their third album seeks to do much more than replicate its close and distant relatives. The peak season is certainly extended, and with bittersweet, ichthyological lyrics like “You light up my life like an anglerfish”, it’s hard to throw back.