What’s great about Joan Jett is her refusal to accept things that just plain suck. You can hear it in past songs like “Fake Friends,” about having to dump the phonies who glom onto you after you’ve made it big, and “MCA,” a retooled version of the Sex Pistols’ “EMI” that flips the bird to the label that done her wrong. Earnest and pissed, Jett earns your trust even as she rocks your foundation.
Pure and Simple, however, suffers from a little too much earnestness: It takes a bucketload of fortitude to bear up while Jett asks, “Where are the wise men of the tribe?” on the ponderous “Brighter Day,” co-written by Desmond Child, of all unlikely collaborators. But if you can wade through the sluggish patches, Pure packs most of the things you look for in a Joan Jett record (chief among them lots of big guitars), and Jett’s arresting, corrugated voice shows as much backbone as ever. On “Spinster” — one of several songs co-written with Jett by Bikini Kill’s Kathleen Hanna — Jett tells us she has no strings to tie her down, and it’s fine by her. On “Insecure” she almost miraculously turns a homespun, grannylike homily into irresistible, hyperactive power pop.
And you can’t really blame Jett if “Activity Grrrl,” her butt-kicking paean to the riot grrrls, comes off a bit like propaganda. The grrrls have picked up a torch that she helped light long ago, so you can forgive lyrics like “She puts her thoughts in a magazine form/And passes them all around the dorm.”
“Activity Grrrl” nails down the connection between Jett and the riot grrrls, and when she sings, “She can’t accept that life is unfair/She wants to think that others care,” she may as well be looking in a mirror.