Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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Joan Jett's Flashback (Blackheart), 13 covers and nine originals recorded as early as 1979 and as late as 1993, looks like a last gasp--the odds and ends of an honorable rock and roller whose consistency has gotten boring. But from an early session with two Sex Pistols to a Rock for Choice gig with L7, it sounds like her best album ever. Jett's limited songwriting and fondness for straight-ahead drummers and chords have always benefited from infusions of outside material, even if her spirit appread to have flown by 1990's all-covers The Hit List. But the secret here isn't the profusion of tracks from her mid-'80s prime. It's that many of them--the censored Stones remake Star Star, the early rap collaboration Black Leather, the casually homoerotic Play With Me--were withheld as too raw, and that the the two most recent, including the striking Activity Grrrl, match their intensity.

Activity Grrrl invokes one reason Jett's feeling better these days--the long overdue riot-grrrl punk typified by two even rawer records, Bratmobile's Pottymouth and Bikini Kill's Pussy Whipped (both Kill Rock Stars). Admittedly, Bratmobile's tape-recorder-in-the-bedroom sound may strike some as too cute to be so nasty. But their godmothers in Bikini Kill are damned convincing, a first-rank hardcore band whose rage just happens to be female. Guys who take pride in their big dicks should probably seek entertainment elsewhere. The rest of us still have shit to learn.

Fast Cuts: The three-CD Janis (Columbia) is a smart, audiowise set that not only gets Joplin's achievement right but helps us understand it. Sue Foley's Without a Warning (Antone's) has the sass, sweetness, and blues feeling of the young Bonnie Raitt.

Playboy, Dec. 1993

Nov. 1993 1994? 1994