Joan Jett knows the wisdom of the old adage “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Don’t let the soft-focus Joan-as-mysterioso-fashion-model album cover fool you — Notorious is in no way a dilution of the Blackhearts’ down-and-dirty formula. Okay, there are a couple of ballads, but for the most part Notorious is what we’ve come to expect from Jett and her boys: anthemic hard-rock ditties packed with gritty riffs, strong melodies and a touch of grunge, all topped off by Jett’s wonderfully rasping voice. On most tracks she shares songwriting credit with a variety of collaborators, most notably Paul Westerberg of the Replacements, with whom she wrote “Backlash,” a relaxed midtempo rocker. She’s not shy about paying homage to old friends, either: “Treadin’ Water,” with its stomping, hand-clapping intro, nods and winks at Gary Glitter, one of her early heroes.
The album once again brings into sharp relief Jett’s astuteness as an observer of the battle of the sexes. Her characters alternately are disgusted with male egotism (“‘Machismo”), gleefully obsessed (“I Want You”), righteously pissed off (“The Only Good Thing [You Ever Said Was Goodbye]”), philosophical about the impermanence of romance (“Goodbye”) and willing to compromise (“Lie to Me”). Though the Blackhearts’ music is the power-pop equivalent of a steak-and-potatoes dinner, no one can call Jett and her band one dimensional. After more than a decade of guitar slinging, Jett has no need to justify her love of rock & roll. As Notorious proves, the affair continues to be fruitful.