Joan Jett comes roaring out of the box in fine style on “Unvarnished,” her first album since 2006, immediately blasting her way hrough the chunky power-pop of its opening track, “Any Weather,” with help from head Foo Fighter Dave Grohl.
Gotta be all downhill from there, right?
Wrong. As the album title hints, Jett has returned to the thumpingly catchy basic rock ‘n' roll that catapulted her to stardom with “Bad Reputation” and “I Love Rock ‘n' Roll” in the early 1980s.
The songs cover topics such as reality television, Superstorm Sandy and the death of her mother, but, regardless of theme, Jett pounds them home with vigor, style and, on “Different,” lots of cowbell.
“It's getting schticky out there,” she rasps during the anti-”Real Wives” rant “Reality Mentality,” while “TMI,” its thematically related twin, shows Jett's 1970s glam-rock roots, thundering along like Gary Glitter in his prime.
In an album filled with stomping rockers, “Bad As We Can Be” takes top honors, a perfect blend of catchy hooks, a blistering guitar solo and a rhythm track driven by relentless handclaps. It's the most perfectly realized Jett moment on “Unvarnished.”
Jett also impresses on two less fiery tracks. “Soulmates to Strangers,” recorded with Laura Jane Grace, the transgender lead singer of Against Me!, mixes tunefulness with regret and just enough guitar bite. The closing “Everybody Needs a Hero” places Jett in an orchestrated ballad setting, and she excels, delivering a sincere, touching vocal performance.
But it's the fierce Jett spirit of old that carries the day on “Unvarnished,” a highly enjoyable return to form for one of rock ‘n' roll's toughest and most enduring performers.
Label: Blackheart Records
Link to live version of "Any Weather" by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts from "Unvarnished": http://youtu.be/Qbab568f_NEsw