Of the Runaways, Joan Jett was the true rocker, instinctively realizing rock & roll’s opportunities for pleasure, violence and triumph. But her identity was obscured by singer Cherie Currie’s starlet moves, producer-manager Kim Fowley’s sleaze-sisters hype and group chops that never overcame their limited heavy-metal sources.
Bad Reputation hits closer to home. Doing Lesley Gore’s “You Don’t Own Me,” for instance, is a great gesture. Like anyone who loves the tune, Jett knows it’s an anthem: lachrymose teenage kitsch turned epic. And though the LP works better as gesture than as music, the music’s still the best this artist has ever made. The sound is crude and rich, with Joan Jett’s raw rhythm guitar at the center of almost every cut. At times, the marching percussion and massed backup vocals become militant and incantatory. Elsewhere, Jett sets full girl-group harmonies against jagged raunch-rock, lets go with pure Dead Boys blitz and manages a “Wooly Bully” whose joy outdistances its camp. Throughout, she sings these songs the way she hears them — as a fan who understands the value of rock fantasies even after she’s stopped believing they’ll actually happen.
Unfortunately, Bad Reputation is flawed by its literal-mindedness — the arrangements pump along gamely yet rarely swing or soar — and by some unresourceful material. But in its mood and feel, Joan Jett’s first solo album is a determined retelling of what sometimes seems like the truest rock story there is.