CD Review of Sinner by Joan Jett and The Blackhearts

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starstarstarno starno star Label: Blackheart Records
Released: 2006
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Joan fricking Jett and the Blackhearts, are you serious? The queen of three-chord rock and roll? The woman “Life” magazine once dubbed “the female Elvis”? The reason MTV survived its first few years? Okay, so maybe that last one is a stretch, but you can’t argue the bitch in black was every bit as vital to that early ‘80s subculture as Madonna, Rod Stewart or Journey.

On her newest, Sinner, a scrubbed-up, reworked edition of the Japan-only import called Naked which dropped in 2004, Jett and familiar songwriting/keyboarding sidekick Kenny Laguna return with leather, hair, and attitude to spare. WARNING: The picture on the inside CD sleeve is downright scary! It’s like a couple of old farts escaped the retirement community and found their way to King’s Island to pose behind cardboard cutouts of their favorite punk rockers. It’s very eerie.

While I wouldn’t go waking Casey Kasem to rev up his old “I Love Rock ‘N Roll” hit machine or anything, Jett has done a respectable job of pulling her forces together, assembling a veritable who’s who of ‘80s hard rock firepower. Bob Rock, Ted Templeman, and Jim Vallance all have thumbprints on Sinner, providing more than enough production credibility to keep any of these 14 tracks interesting. Jett and not-so-secret admirer Linda Perry get the party started with a good ol’ Bush-bashing (“Riddles”), complete with sound bites of both Donald Rumsfeld and his boss. A predictable and clichéd call to arms, brandishing a guitar as her weapon, Jett cries, “wake up, people!” in protest to war and the current administration who “had to pick a fight.”

Subject matter aside, Sinner has a ton of guitar rock guts. “A.C.D.C.,” a riff-crazed cover of the 30-year-old Sweet tune, is about as cool as anything Jett’s done to date. Sticking with three minutes and three chords, “Change the World” applies the kind of fever pitch that paved the way for Green Day and most any band who shared the bill with Jett on this past summer’s Warped Tour. Thick, fast and furious, these Blackhearts seem no more ready to retire, or even pause, twenty years beyond their heyday.

In the end, Sinner loses points for creativity, having culled the better part of this record from back catalog material. Covers have long been one of Jett’s strengths, however, and this year’s take on the Replacements’ “Androgynous” is no exception. It’s a swanky Vegas lounge version that, coupled with the out-of-the-closet anthem “Everyone Knows,” should have the rumor mills churning like never before. Personally, I don’t think she’s gay so much as just plain kinky (on “Fetish” she orders, “Relax, while I pound your ass!”). But who am I to say?

~Red Rocker