Sound — 8
Joan Jett has had an illustrious career in the breakneck world known as the music business. From her time with the all-female group, The Runaways, to her long career with her solo outfit, The Blackhearts, Joan has been able to establish herself as the queen of rock and roll for her looks, her grit, and her bada-s, punk voice. Just in case you forgot, Jett is the one who made "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" famous. "Unvarnished" is Joan Jett's tenth studio album with the Blackhearts, who currently consist of Thommy Price, Dougie Needles, and Acey Slade. And just to feed the UG obsession, Dave Grohl co-wrote and played on the first song, "Any Weather (606 Version)." For this album, I was given a pre-release listening of a sort; I saw Jett play live a couple of months ago and she played many of the songs from this album. This album sounds better in studio than live, which may seem surprising given the type of music that Joan Jett & The Blackhearts play. The music felt ruder and the energy more cleverly directed on the album than when played live because of, I would assume (and hope), Joan's age. In addition, when played next to the songs that made Joan Jett & The Blackhearts famous, this album doesn't quite level up. But, then again, "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" is a tough song to follow; she probably won't come out with anything that good again. And, if this trail is followed a bit more, she did not even write "I Love Rock 'n' Roll" to begin with. Once the listener allows this album to come out from under the shadow of Joan Jett's handful of hits, most of which are covers anyway, this album is not that bad. Even though it isn't incredible, this album is solid. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts stick to the standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-solo-chorus structure and get a good, hummable song each time. Of course, some of the songs are better than others are, and to this end, the best songs are "Reality Mentality," "Make It Back," and "Bad as We Can Be." The guitar work on the album is above average for Jett's genre of music; good old rock and roll with a hint of punk thrown in. Excluding the ballad used to conclude the album, guitar riffs that match the vocal lines, palm muted open strings during the verses, first position pentatonic solos, and yes, a plethora of power chords are the full extent of the guitar work. The fact that one can count the guitar techniques used on the fingers of one hand does not demean the album in the slightest. Many classic albums have been made using only these techniques, sometimes less. Joan Jett & The Blackhearts use these techniques to create riffs, solos, and songs that are rawer versions of "Talk Dirty to Me." To sum this all up in one word, the music is fun.
Lyrics — 7
Joan has and has always had a very distinctive voice. While she has lost some of the grit that can be heard on her earlier material, she retains most of what makes her unique. For a Joan Jett vocal performance, this album is average. Joan doesn't show an incredible drop in flair that would suggest that her career has kicked the bucket, but she just doesn't match her performance on her earlier material. Lyrically, the album has its vicissitudes (look it up). Most of the lyrics until the final two songs utilize cheap rhyme schemes that pay little attention to the music they're playing over ("Reality Mentality" is still fun though). The last two songs, "Different" and "Everybody Needs a Hero" have heartfelt, meaningful lyrics. "Different" appears to be inspired by bullying and gives hope to the victims of it. "Everybody Needs a Hero" has average ballad lyrics but they match the song well and her vocal tone makes it seem real compared to many of the other songs where the lyrics are O.K. but she sacrifices them to make a catchy tune.
Overall Impression — 7
Listeners who are fans of Joan Jett will be pleased with this album. Those who are not familiar with her will become acquainted with her unique brand of punk/hard rock that harkens back to a time when music was bare bones; made to get the crowd to have fun and not to make their jaws drop at the speed and technical prowess of the music. Each one of the songs on this album is catchy, but only a couple are great as a whole. The best song, by a wide margin is "Reality Mentality." Honorable mentions go to "Bad as We Can Be" and "Everybody Needs a Hero." Honestly, this album isn't incredible, it isn't career changing, and it isn't going to be a bestseller. But, it does take the listener back a couple of decades to my favorite era in music, and that deserves a medal all on its own.