The Von Bondies – Pawn Shoppe Heart

Detroit City.  In the parlance of Mr Jason Stollsteimer of The Von Bondies, a broken land. In the mind of this reviewer the font of some of the most important music of the 20th century. There’s a mood that even Detroit itself is sick of talking about Mr Jacky White and the rise of the two-piece, but it as a city it still staggers me.

The Motor City roll call makes me shudder. Motown in the 60’s. Hitsville USA. The Temptations, The Supremes, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder. Garage punks like The Rationals. The motherfuckin’ MC5. The fearsome might of the 5’s little brother band, The Stooges. And it don’t stop at rock’n’roll – from what they tell me, four little Detroit kids called Juan Atkins, Eddie Fowlkes, Derrick May and Kevin Saunderson soaked up Kraftwerk, rap and the base rhythm of the car production plant robots and spat it all back as trance techno in the late 1980’s.

But Detroit isn’t about history. The Dirtbombs, The White Stripes, The Detroit Cobras, The Witches, The Sights – all the bands that seek out the analogue sanctuary of Mr Jim Diamond at the Ghetto Recorders prove that what’s coming outta the great state of Michigan means a helluva lot to what proper, real, true rock and roll music is in 2004.

The common element that all this talk seems to share is something about creativity and inventiveness founding itself out of nothingness. Your grandmother was right. When you don’t have television (or a job, or any clubs to go to, or any decent place to buy records or see bands) you make your own fun. But simultaneously, you can’t be constrained by the strictures of your home. You gotta do what comes natural like..

I guess that sets up where the Von Bondies are at.

Cos I gotta, here’s the bit about Jack White, just in case you ain’t picked up an NME in the last six months. Jack White of The White Stripes helped The Von Bondies out at the beginning of their career. Along with the above-mentioned Mr Diamond, Mr White was behind the mixing desk for their first couple of records. He took them out on the road with his band. When the Von Bondies grew up they had some spats about who should take credit for what and there was a nasty dust up. Here endeth the obligatory, value neutral, Jack White bit.

I started out with The Von Bondies a couple of years ago, when hype bubble surrounding the abovementioned Jack White brought their first record, Lack Of Communication to the attention of the general public. It was a messy slice of base cheap liquor and pseudoephedrine fuelled rock’n’roll that spoke of great things to come.

Stopping off briefly to release a compendium of some live tracks their Peels Sessions, the aptly titled Raw and Rare, the Von Bondies second full length album, Pawn Shoppe Heart is at first so exciting because it’s like a growth ring on the stump of a tree – a tangible piece of evidence of a process of growth.

Lack Of Communication was, the band freely admits, a rush job that coulda been done a whole lot better. Pawne Shoppe Heart takes the energy of that record and filters it through a damn lot of hard work. The Von Bondies have been on the road pretty much constantly for the past three years building up a base of fans in Europe and the UK and crisscrossing the US playing in clubs to 20 people, then 100, then 300. The eagerness to turn this growth, both in popularity and as a band into a record is what pushes Pawn Shoppe Heart ever forward.

Marcie Bolen and Jason Stollsteimer push machine-gun-saw guitars through the centre of the mix, and Carrie Smith and Don Blum’s rhythm section lock into a fearsome groove in the first minute of No Regrets, the album’s opener and although there’s the occasional respite (Mairead, and Right Of Way).

The thing about this record is that it speaks about so much more than any number of garage rock arrivistes in it’s love of rock’n’roll, and it’s belief that you can love the Nuggets box, bubblegum pop and the Blues, and Van Halen all at the same time and reflect that in the records that you make.

Lyrically Stollsteimer’s lyrics each in their own capsule speak of characters and situations seen through a very particular lens. Even when Carrie Smith steps up to the mike for a perfect catchy pop song in Not That Social, it’s Stollsteimer’s words that she’s singing and there’s a unity of focus through everything else on the album.

What’s so awesome about Pawn Shoppe Heart is that it feels no need to revert to clichíƒÂ©s either musically or lyrically. On the albums title track, lyrically, Stollsteimer is Robert Plant, Robert Johnson, and Robert Tyner and himself all at once.

It’s an album personal that’s personal, dynamic, thrilling and captivating. It’s everything that rock’n’roll music, be it from Detroit, or anywhere, should be in 2004.