Joan Jett & The Blackhearts - Unvarnished

Joan Jett & The Blackhearts Unvarnished cover
Joan Jett & The Blackhearts
Blackheart Records
When you play a Joan Jett record how do you expect it to sound like? Well, that’s exactly what “Unvarnished”, the first new album of Joan Jett & The Blackhearts in seven years, sounds like. Simple old-school rock‘n’roll, the kind that can be offered only by people who have been playing it for so long.
I’ve said many times and I’ll say it again; when a band or an artist who has been around for over 20 years releases a new album you don’t expect that album to be their best work. The way I see it, the most important thing is for a record to live up to an artist’s legacy in every way. To be more descriptive, I ask myself “is this record representative of their career so far?”, in other words, if someone who has never heard of Joan Jett & The Blackhearts before, hears “Unvarnished” and digs it so much that he or she takes a look at their previous work, will they be disappointed? Well, the answer to this question is surely “no, they won’t be disappointed”.
“Unvarnished” is, on the one hand, consistent with the band’s older stuff, but on the other it does not fail to stay current with the time. Firstly, it starts strongly with “Any Weather”, a classic Joan Jett track with powerful guitars, a chorus that just can’t get out of your head and an amazingly groovy rhythm section. This particular track was actually co-written with Dave Grohl (a collaboration that Joan admitted she longed to do for some time) and recorded in Grohl’s studio. “Any Weather” sets the mood perfectly for the rest of the album’s loose rock‘n’roll vibe.
It’s evident that the people behind these tunes are good friends and have a special chemistry with each other. Joan once again is working with her longtime band mates guitarist Dougie Needles and drummer Thommy Price, not to mention Kenny Laguna, her mentor and co-writer from the very beginning. My God, these guys know how to write inspiring and catchy songs with incredible hooks. From the raw power of TMI”, to the sincere rocking melancholic “Hard to Grow Up”, right up to the old-school punk “Bad as We Can Be”, nothing in this record sounds forced or (as the title suggests) varnished.
It looks like Joan Jett is not getting old, she is getting more mature with age. She succeeded in producing a rocking album without posing as a 20-something rock chick. Lyrically “Unvarnished” deals with issues that appear to be close to the singer’s heart, looking back on her whole life and touching on her own mortality. With that said, I have to admit I think “Everybody Needs a Hero” (the last track in there) could have been left out from the record.
Lastly, let me just say that I would suggest you get the deluxe edition which features the truly explosive live performances of “Bad Reputation”, “Cherry Bomb”, TMI and “I Hate Myself For Loving You”.