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CD Review: Joan Jett – Sinner

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What is this, a time warp? Here I am in June of 2006, and the face that stares back at me from the promo CD on my desk might as well have stepped right out of 1981. That curled lip. That spiky fringe of jet-black hair. Those thick clouds of eyeliner around the toughest set of sloe eyes in rock'n'roll. It's Joan Fucking Jett: trailblazing female rocker, inspiration for Guitar Wolf's "Jett Rock'n'Roll," and probably the hottest alleged lesbian ever to pour herself into a pair of leather pants. Not only does she look like 1981, though, but blessedly, put on the CD and she sounds like 1981, too: opening track "Riddles" busts out of the gates with the same combination of girl group pop and punkish hard rock Jett has made her stock in trade since the Runaways cut "Cherry Bomb."

But here's the rub: it isn't 1981. It's actually been 25 years since Joan Jett's "Bad Reputation" heyday, and if you and I know it, unfortunately, Jett knows it too. Sinner, Jett's first domestic full-length in nearly a decade, is fully conscious of the quarter century that has elapsed since "I Love Rock N' Roll" exploded on to radio airwaves and MTV; from the generation of strong, independent female musicians she's inspired (Kathleen Hanna of Bikini Kill/Le Tigre/"Riot Grrrl"-coining fame cowrites two tracks), to the now ubiquitous tradition of cleaning up punk rock for chart consumption, to the particulars of today's depressing political environment.

That consciousness is evident from the first lines of "Riddles," and even if the idea of a politicized Joan Jett seems enticing to you, let's just say it looks (nominally) better on paper. Despite the crunchy guitar and fist-pumping "oooh oooh ooohs," Jett's stab at an anti-Bush statement is destined to join a very long list of well-meaning but ultimately embarrassing Iraq War-era protest songs. (Remember the Beastie Boys' "In a World Gone Mad," anybody?) I'd be the last guy to say her heart's in the wrong place, but when the best observation she can come up with is "There's bad stuff happening / And nobody does a thing," I'd just as soon she stick with the snarling bad-girl schtick.

But not even the political cluelessness of "Riddles" can match the depths of "Change the World," which marries similarly naive sentiments to a sanitized pop-punk arrangement right out of the Good Charlotte songbook. Elsewhere, Jett's acknowledgements of her much-questioned sexuality can often feel like excerpts from a brain-numbingly P.C. Women's Studies seminar. If lesbian love song "Everyone Knows" is both endearingly sweet and catchy, then "post-gender" exercizes like "Androgynous" are reminders that even Riot Grrrl bands had kick-ass tunes to cut through the rhetoric – something which Jett desperately needs if she wants to keep moving in this direction.

And the worst of it is, I know she's got it in her. On songs like "Turn It Around," where the (self?-) consciousness finally takes a backseat to the attitude which is her greatest asset, Jett sounds downright vital. Even the gay stuff gets a fun, campy work-out on "A.C.D.C.," in which feminist sloganeering is replaced by a decidedly un-P.C. exclamation of "lesbian it together." It's the best song on the album by a mile, frankly; which can be somewhat disheartening when one considers that it's a Sweet cover of well over 30 years' vintage.

But really, while Joan Jett's heritage is perhaps larger than she's been given credit for – one can hear the echoes of her music in rock'n'roll women from Maja Ivarsson of the Sounds to the Paybacks' Wendy Case – what exactly does that heritage consist of? Is it great songwriting, expert musicianship, or a set of powerful pipes? Not really; more like a snarl here, a purr there, and an image that has, in its way, redefined the Rock Chick miles beyond the old "cute girls with guitars" paradigm. That image is still alive and well. You just might be a lot better served – and a hell of a lot more satisfied – to experience it back where it belongs: in 1981.

Reviewed by Zach Hoskins

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  • billy hale

    joan jetteration get back with runaways please

  • Luisa

    Joan Jett is one of the greatests. She is as fresh as ever. Her new music belongs in the now, not in the 80’s. You underestimate this lady, I’m afraid. Maybe you like Shakira better! Pa-leese!

  • Jacqueline

    As a fan who has been there since the begining I enjoyed Joan’s new CD. As a general rule I buy anything that Joan put out there. It’s not just about the music…it’s her. She not a crackhead, or an alcoholic, she doesn’t eat meat, she’s a rock and roller who tries to be one with a healthy spirit and mind. That’s refreshing in itself. Half of the musicians who are in the mainstream now are only there because they use their “assets” to sell records. What you get from Joan is her signature three chord rock and roll. What’s wrong with that? Either you like it or you don’t. Us Jettheads love it.

  • Derek

    Joan Jett’s new album “Sinner” is the best work she’s done in 15 years! She left us an ‘artist’ and came back a legend and icon! So what if Jett sings about her views of what she sees in the world and in politics, HELLO??? Isnt that PUNK ROCK???? about rebellion, anarchy, and anti-satements? her new penned songs are awesome! ‘Naked” has a great guitar riff, metaphorically speaking of being emotionally opened up, hence, naked. “Fetish” has an awesome hard crunchy guitar riff, with explicit lyrics,and typical Jett attitude( I order u, u better mind!), “Bad time” penned with famous songwriter Jim Vallance, is catchy, tragic,moody, and also has attitude! An excellent cd since 1994’s “pure and simple” and 1995’s? “evil stig”(songs by the gits sung by Jett after lead singer mia Zappata was murdered in 1993). So all Jett haters who drank their “hatorade” and think it sounds like 1981, is not a punkrocker by heart, and should stick to commenting on Ashlee Simpson cd’s. Everyone who LOVES joan jett, get “Sinner”, AWESOME cd!

  • I’m in the music movie “Mayor of the Sunset
    Strip”; but before that, I did music reviews
    for “Discoveries” and “Rock City News” Magazines…and I saw quite a few female rockers.

    I got a copy of “Sinner” and it’s great! Joan
    Jett sounds better than ever…and never mind
    that some of the album was “previously released
    in Japan”. (Hell, how many of us have money to
    buy those imports, anyway?)

  • lux interior

    Sooo funny to read the complete newby critics. Soooo stupid and they will learn someday.

  • denese richesin

    Joan Jett is the best, she beats any other rock star male or female. I listen to her 24/7 and i never get tired of hearing her sing!!! My one wish is to meet her in person, until then, i will just keep her close through music and my space!!! love ya Joan!!!

  • denese richesin

    Joan Jett is the best, she beats any other rock star male or female. I listen to her 24/7 and i never get tired of hearing her sing!!! My one wish is to meet her in person, until then, i will just keep her close through music and my space!!! love ya Joan!!!

  • Kat

    Zack Hoskins you’ve got a lot to learn.