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Guitar Wolf - LOVE&JETT Music Album Reviews

On their 13th album, the Japanese rock’n’rollers reaffirm what they do best: making the once-rebellious sounds of surf, rockabilly, and CBGB punk seem dangerous again.

There are garage-rock bands, and then there’s Tokyo terrors Guitar Wolf, whose sound couldn’t possibly be contained by a mere cinder-block carport. This band’s style of rock’n’roll demands more imposing prefixes, like “jet,” “hurricane,” and “Kawasaki ZII 750.” Much as 1960s British Invasion groups bastardized the blues and sold it back to American teens, Guitar Wolf have spent the past 30 years making once-rebellious Stateside sounds—surf, rockabilly, Nuggets, CBGB punk—seem dangerous again, forsaking retro purism for monomania. Your typical garage band might make your ears ring; this one kills zombies.

Barring the occasional fidelity upgrade and periodic willingness to jam out past the three-minute mark, Guitar Wolf albums are more or less interchangeable—their commitment to rusty-chainsaw rock’n’roll is so absolute, it can make the Ramones look like Radiohead. Each release subjects you to a blaze of in-the-red riffs, song titles that appear torn from a B-movie poster, and screamed Japanese verses that even a native speaker might be hard-pressed to decipher. But for all their wild abandon and biker-gang aggression, Guitar Wolf have always had a soft spot for the melodic charms of ’50s rock’n’roll. As the title of their 13th album suggests, this time they’ve added a little romance to their roar.

LOVE&JETT is being issued by Jack White’s Third Man, making it Guitar Wolf’s first release for a high-profile U.S. label since they were part of Matador’s run of Japanese signings in the mid-’90s. And with its skin-tight 10-song, 26-minute format, the album seems primed to engage a wider audience—the opening title track may come crashing in on a hardcore stomp, but frontman Seiji’s unabashedly tuneful vocal practically renders it power-pop. The band also take extra measures to ensure the language barrier is a non-issue: Everything you need to know about the ravenous “Sex Jaguar” is right there in the wild-cat growls. And while Guitar Wolf are no stranger to murderous covers of snotty garage-band staples, their jackhammered rendition of the Spencer Davis Group’s “Gimme Some Lovin’” retains the original’s congenial, soulful spirit despite the half-remembered lyrics.

But the most perceptible change on LOVE&JETT can be felt beneath its surface squall. This is the first Guitar Wolf album to feature new bassist Gotz, the third person to fill out the band’s bottom end since original member Billy died of a heart attack in 2005. Gotz brings a touch of polyrhythmic finesse to the band’s bull-headed assault, investing “Bowling in Takada-No-Baba” with a Motown-like swing and laying down a throbbing bassline to power the gritty hi-hat groove of “Australopithecus Spark” (the closest Guitar Wolf have ever come to disco). But though LOVE&JETT teases at new directions, it ultimately reaffirms what this band does best. The album climaxes with an updated version of the berserker 2002 rave-up “Fire Ball Red” (rebranded here as “Fireball Red Legend”), providing new fans with a crash course on an essential Guitar Wolf maxim: When you hear Seiji count in with a 1-2-3-4, it’s a warning to get the fuck out of the way.

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