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  JOAN JETT AND THE BLACKHEARTS
'Unvarnished'
(Blackheart Records Group)
Release Date: 1st October 2013


Liz Medhurst

liz medhurst



joan jett

Ah, how I love Joan Jett. As a teenager I used to wonder why I couldn't get the same sounds out of my cheap Japanese nylon stringed guitar as she could out of that gorgeous white Gibson Melody Maker (yeah, I know...). Thankfully I did quickly work out that it wasn't actually the make of guitar and I have been in respectful awe ever since.

She looked truly amazing in leathers and a shag hairstyle, and still does, but more than this her talent, self belief and work ethic was inspiring. This wonderful icon demonstrated how to be true to yourself, and was like the cool older cousin I wished I had.

I remember getting over-excited in the early 80s when I heard that Joan Jett And The Blackhearts were supporting Queen – another band I was obsessed with – just a few miles away at their Leeds gig at Elland Road, but I wasn't able to go due to parental restrictions decreeing that it was no place for a 14-year-old.

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The desolation of missing seeing Joan for real was slightly compensated by bumping into Brian May after the gig had finished, when he pulled up in a limo in a suburban street near where I was living to stay for a few days with his then in-laws in a small semi-detached house. Surreal.

Anyway I digress. There is a new Joan Jett And The Blackhearts album out. It's really good. If you are expecting edgy, punchy rhythms, tight guitars, driving beats and plenty of opportunities to shout "hey" you won't be disappointed. If you are expecting it to sound dated and stuck in the past like the punk and new-wave it's influenced by then you will be disappointed.

These are quality, direct and timeless rock and roll tracks. Lyrically, they deal with mature, heavy issues - death, isolation, etc - but the album is packed with songs that will appeal to old and new audiences – there's definitely no question about Joan getting maudlin or depressive, she still rocks hard and writes according to her life experiences, as she always has done, and her performance is as good as it ever was.

As far as highlights go, 'Soulmates To Strangers' is breathtaking in its simplicity, describing a relationship that crashed and burned as strongly as it ignited. 'Fragile' is full of truth about how tenuous life can be but comes multi-layered with strong riffs and hooks and a perfect vocal.

The closing track, 'Everybody Needs A Hero' is direct and honest and there is real strength in that kind of vulnerability. Ultimately the ten tracks are positive and life-affirming and this is real testimony to Joan's lyrical talent and ear for a great hook.

It's fitting that the subject matter evolves as the years go by, but the essence of the band remains consistent.

You certainly don't have to listen out for all of the subtleties or deeper meanings to enjoy this album. It's a brilliantly executed piece of work which has every chance of providing some new classic tracks and is as good as anything in its genre. It makes me incredibly happy that Joan Jett continues to do what she excels at - making great rock and roll records.

Track Listing:
1. Any Weather
2. TMI
3. Soulmates To Strangers
4. Make It Back
5. Hard To Grow Up
6. Fragile
7. Reality Mentality
8. Bad As We Can Be
9. Different
10. Everybody
11.Needs a Hero


'Unvarnished' from Joan Jett on Vimeo.


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