Good Music

Not Rated

On a Joan Jett album, the pop touches should always be kept to a minimum. In the ideal mix, most of the melody should come from hooky but rock-hard riffs, without much frill on top. Jett's earlier LPs were terrific because they hit that tough balance dead center. But for her fifth outing, producers Ken Laguna and Thom Panunzio have added too much sweetener.

Edges have been planed down everywhere. Nowhere does Jett shriek and wail with the oomph she displayed on "Cherry Bomb" or "Handy Man." Cutesy, slicked-up vocal lilts have been substituted for the Blackhearts' strong backup shouts, which undercuts otherwise solid rockers like Jett's smart cover of Jonathan Richman's "Roadrunner." Also annoying is the soft focus of the title track; it sounds so much like a car commercial that you may find yourself listening for financing rates. The same goes for her cover of the Beach Boys' "Fun, Fun, Fun," which opens with some subversively brutal guitar but wimps out with pure beach-girl harmonies on the chorus.

The problem with some of the other tracks is not just bloated production but botched writing. The melody from "Outlaw" doesn't seem to know where it's going until it finally winds up as "Going Mobile," and the rap number "Black Leather" won't exactly make Run-D.M.C. run scared.

Luckily, the last three songs on the LP will remind fans of why they loved Jett's rock & roll in the first place. "Just Lust" — a zipless-fuck anthem — has outrageous lyrics that rank with her best and a proudly plodding beat. The Hendrix cover "You Got Me Floatin'" also has her distinctive kick. But the real killer is "Contact," which has a Beatlesque chord cascade that effortlessly transcends rote power pop. It's too bad so much of the rest sounds as if Jett were trying to please radio programmers and her new record company. Real rebels, like Joan Jett, should never try to please anyone but themselves.

From The Archives Issue 783: April 2, 1998