Monday, August 27, 2007

The Joneses- Keeping Up With the Joneses

Author's Note: This review was originally published on The Label Project. It can be found here:

In 1986, the Sunset Strip was clogged with hundreds of ozone destroying hair bands. Big haired kids from all over the country arrived daily, hoping they would hit paydirt with their own raunchy tales of debauchery. While many bands had an idea of what sleaze was supposed to sound like, most of them failed in execution. On the rare occasion a band succeeded, they were largely ignored by the masses. The Joneses were one of those bands.

Keeping Up With the Joneses succeeds where many other albums of the genre fail: The recklessness of the band’s sound is kept firmly in tact. The production is raw and messy. The band plays each note as if it was the final note they would ever play. There is no pretension, no extended soloing, just straight forward rock n’ roll. This record pulses with the debauchery of the Rainbow and the filthiness of the mud pit at the Tropicana. This record is not sanitized for your protection, this is the real thing.

In the mid-80s, nearly every band that hit the Sunset Strip claimed The New York Dolls and Johnny Thunders as an influence. While these bands mastered the Dolls’ trash androgyny, very few of them understood their sound. The Joneses not only understand The Dolls, they have mastered their sound. Despite the obvious influence, Keepin’ Up With the Joneses never feels like a ripoff of the Dolls. The Joneses simply took the template already set, and added their own touches.

The record begins with “Miss 747,” a roaring rocker in the vain of the early Rolling Stones. The record really gets going with “She’s So Filthy,” a slinky slice of rhythm and blues. Singer Jeff Drake slows the pace of the lyrics, enunciating every word and showing the full effect of his disaffected bratty tone. “Stranded in the Jungle” begins with the intoxicating beat of bongo drums and monkeys before delivering an atomic blast of guitar.

The mark of a truly great rock band is to take something quite familiar and manage to make it their own. The Joneses not only leave their mark on the sleaze genre, they also manage to make a seemingly innocuous pop song sound dangerous.

When Elton John released “Crocodile Rock” in 1973, it was a nostalgic throwback to rock’s most innocent era. Elton and Susie had so much fun, holding hands and skimming stones. It was the kind of song that was meant to make the listener feel warm and fuzzy. In the hands of Jeff Drake, “Crocodile Rock” is turned into an anthem of teenage hormones. “Crocodile Rock” retains its basic musical structure, but the faster tempo, loud guitars and bratty street punk vocals give the song a nasty edge. Jeff Drake wants to do more than hold hands and skim stones.

If this album had been released in the wake of Appetite For Destruction, The Joneses would have been nipping on Guns n’ Roses heels. Unfortunately the album was released the year before; America wasn’t quite ready for such a dirty piece of rock n’ roll. For the fans of LA glam punk and sleaze, this is an essential recording.