On the racks: June 13

By MATT ASHARE  |  June 14, 2006

Regina Spektor
Just when it seemed a sure bet that Joan Jett was destined to be the female Billy Idol – a commercial punk aging gracelessly in tight leather pants and a bad girl attitude that didn’t fit much better – Kathleen Hanna came along and held the head Blackheart up as the fiery fairy godmother of riot grrrl. More than a decade later, the buzz about Jett’s new Sinner (Blackheart) conveniently omits any mention of her embarrassingly oversexed 1999 album Fetish (Blackheart), which featured reworks of the Runaways classic “Cherry Bomb,” the Blackheart’s “Do You Wanna Touch Me? (Oh Yeah!),” and a cover of “Wooly Bully,” along with some kind of bondage photo, a little techno-industrial production, and some silly-ass lines about rough sex. Sinner attempts to let bygones be bygones, even though it reprises a couple of tunes from Fetish. It’s being hailed as her first genuine studio album since 1994’s Pure and Simple, the disc on which Jett first teamed up with Bikini Kill and L7. Hanna’s back doing her sassy screamo thing on Sinner, and Jett sticks to those big, muscular guitars that have always served her well (except on a touching cover of the Replacements tune “Androgynous”). She’s also celebrating the 25th anniversary of her Blackheart label by reissuing two remastered classics, 1981’s Bad Reputation and 1997’s greatest hits set Fit to Be Tied.

Retaining Gang of Four’s Andy Gill to produce their self-titled 2004 debut more or less insured that the Futureheads would be tagged as yet another post-punk/neo-new wave sensation. And the disc certainly did have its share of quirky dance-pop singles. For the follow-up, News and Tributes (Vagrant), it’s Blur/Doves/Depeche Mode producer Ben Hillier’s turn to move things forward, which means no novelties (like the debut disc’s playfully rocked up cover of Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love”) and more emphasis on, as the Brits say, chunes. So far it’s working: the single “Skip to the End” debuted at the top of the British charts when it came out in May.

If it seems like it was just yesterday that the Futureheads’ fellow UK techno-popsters Hot Chip were coming on strong with, ah, Coming On Strong (DFA/Astralwerks), it’s because it was only last November that the synth-loving foursome’s debut hit stores here in the States, thanks the bright boys in the DFA. Apparently, it impressed the Astralwerks folks enough to get the band’ sophomore disc, The Warning (DFA/Astralwerks), into US stores before too many people had time to download the import. So they didn’t have to add three “bonus” tracks this time around to what sounds like the second coming of the Beta Band, albeit less skewed and more intent on proving that Beach Boys harmonies and drum ’n’ bass breakbeats are not mutually exclusive.

Back on US soil, the mighty Sonic Youth have parted ways, at least for the time being, with unofficial fifth member Jim O’Rourke, who’d been handling production duties and lending his multi-instrumental talents to the band. Perhaps that left Thurston, Kim, Lee, and Steve feeling like they had something to prove on their new Rather Ripped. But, as the title suggests, this is Sonic Youth really feeling it -- and by “it” we’re talking about whatever it was they were feeling on Goo. Not content to go longly and loudly into noise-rock jam-band obsolescence, they’ve pruned song lengths back to three minutes: a good omen.

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