Ever since their inception back in 2007, throwback specialists the Jim Jones Revue have continuously danced around that thin line between pulling inspiration from a bygone musical era and becoming a slave to said era’s own stylistic limitations.
Their 2008 self-titled debut and 2010’s ‘Burning Your House Down‘ each wore its influences on its rolled-up sleeves, almost to a fault. Mixing the distorted Raw Power riffage of the 70’s with the greasy Great Balls Of Fire piano rock of the 50’s proved to be a powerful combination, yet it was hard for one not to wonder whether the wild-eyed urgency they created on the first two records could carry itself across a third without feeling like a cheap gimmick.
So it isn’t exactly surprising that the London five-piece would directly address the one-trick-pony concerns on their next release, but what is surprising, however, is just how easily they have pummeled those concerns into dust. As a result, this year’s ‘The Savage Heart‘ is a darker, more revelatory affair; one that sees them expand their sound into several unknown avenues, all without losing the sweat and grit of the manic twelve-bar boogie that defined their previous efforts.
The album begins on a familiar note, as opener ‘It’s Gotta Be About Me‘ retains all the band’s signature trademarks – guitarist Rupert Orton’s heavy crunch, frontman Jim Jones’ abrasive lyrical bravado, all moved along by an old-time auditorium melody from incoming pianist Henri Herbert.
But it’s only when the familiarity disappears that the album truly begins to take shape. ‘7 Times Around The Sun‘ follows the stripped-down structure of an early work song, complete with a primitive snare roll, percussive piano chords, call-and-response field hollers, and absolutely no guitar. Then there is ‘Chain Gang‘, which starts off as a dramatic dirge centered around Jones’ wounded vocal delivery and framed by a series of thunderous stops and starts, before taking a simple bluesman configuration and soaking it in a wash of ominous feedback.
These two tracks alone are peppered with more subtlety and nuance than anything on their last two outings, yet each act as mere stepping stones toward ‘In & Out Of Harm’s Way‘, a sprawling six-minute mini-epic that serves as both the centerpiece of the collection and as perhaps the group’s most dynamic composition to date. Here Jones fluctuates between caged-animal growl and defeated monotone, while a slick collusion of spooky background whispers, delicate guitar squeals, and horror movie key tones give way to a parade of haunted gospel moans and chants.
The Jim Jones Revue will forever be linked to the raucous Little Richard-on-steroids approach that built their initial image and solidified their standing as a don’t-miss live act.
While there is still plenty of vintage rock n’ roll howling sprinkled throughout ‘The Savage Heart’, it is undoubtedly the moments of experimentation – the sudden acapella breakdown on ‘Never Let You Go‘, the ghostly doo-wop eulogy of closer ‘Midnight Oceans & The Savage Heart‘ – that provide an intriguing distance.
Not only from many of their contemporaries, but from their own catalogue as well.