So what do we really know about rock ‘n’ roll? That it’s got a backbeat, and you can lose it any old time you use it. That doing it all night will often lead to partying every day or, at the very least, some hootchie- coo. That it is most certainly not noise pollution (and thus, one presumes, environmentally friendly). That there is at least one high school named after it. That it was given to you by God. That you can’t stop it. That it never forgets. And that, despite rumours of its demise, it will never die.
Danko Jones knows all of these things, but more than just celebrate the
mythology of rock ‘n’ roll, he stands as a model of all the hard work required
to honour its legacy—all the overnight drives, sleeplessnights, long-distance
relationshipping, and pints of spilt blood and sweat (but no tears—there’s no
crying in rock ‘n’ roll). It’s the only life he’s known for the past 16 years, the
gory details of which are on full display in the recently released documentary DVD, Bring on the Mountain, and upcoming tell-all book Too Much Trouble: A Very Oral History of Danko Jones. Given everything he’s been through, it’s no surprise to find that rock ‘n’ roll has left Danko Jones a little black and blue. But he’s always itching for the next hit—like the sweet little heartbreakers that populate his songs, rock ‘n’ roll is an addiction he don’t wanna quit.
Over the course of six albums, Danko Jones has forged a singular brand of rock ‘n’ roll that draws equally from the blues, ’60s garage, ’70s hard rock and power-pop, ’80s hardcore, ‘90s indie rock and Scandinavian metal—not to mention classic stand-up comedy records—without ever being fully defined by any of those sources. But while built from the same rudiments, each Danko Jones record has possessed a distinct sonic identity and attitude. I’m Alive and I’m On Fire was pure blues-punk fury. Born a Lion brought the boogie and sledgehammer soul. We Sweat Blood was more anxious and aggro. Sleep Is the Enemy wielded the sharpest hooks. Never Too Loud was as slick as Below the Belt was stripped-down. But, compared to all that’s come before, Rock and Roll Is Black and Blue is, hands down, the most emotional and, as a result, the most epic Danko Jones album to date.
Now, don’t be scared off by those E-words—there’s not a children’s choir, symphony orchestra or piano ballad to be found within a 500-mile radius of this album. But what you hear on Rock and Roll Is Black and Blue is the Danko Jones ideal blown up to skyscraping proportions, resulting in 12 tracks that are bolder, brasher, and brawnier than anything they’ve attempted before.
So what exactly has changed since 2010’s comparatively scrappy Below the Belt, an album that cracked the U.S. Top 40 Active Rock Radio charts, and spawned a video trilogy that marked the first time Elijah Wood and Ralph Macchio have shared screen time with Lemmy Kilmister and Mike Watt? For a hint, look behind the drum kit, where you’ll now find Atom Willard—the sixth person in Danko Jones history to hold the drummer title, but the first to stand on equal creative footing with Danko and his longtime foil, bassist John “JC” Calabrese. The man’s résumé speaks for itself: Not only was Willard the driving percussive force behind Danko’s all-time favorite San Diegan garage-punk armada Rocket From the Crypt, he’s also been keeping time for the multi-platinum likes of the Offspring and Angels & Airwaves—so he knows how to drum his way around a massive, radio-ready tune.
Now, Danko Jones has never been lacking for confidence, but with Willard in the tail-gunner position, the band sounds more fearless than ever, whether taking it low and slow with the majestic Zeppelin-worthy groove of “You Wear Me Down,” or aiming sky-high on the cloud-parting chorus of “Just a Beautiful Day” and the soaring centrepiece track “Always Away.” The latter is another addition to the great Danko Jones canon of road songs—but where previous entries like “Code of the Road” and “Sleep Is the Enemy” were testaments to the band’s tireless work ethic, “Always Away” offers a different perspective: It’s an anthemic, open-hearted address to that special someone who’s holding down the fort back home. And it is perhaps the most sincere, heartfelt song Danko has ever sung—but fear not, even at his most sentimental, Danko still comes armed with a bitchin’ “Thunderstruck”-sized riff.
In other developments, there are also, for the first time on a Danko Jones record, songs that reference geo-politics (“I Don’t Care”) and religion (“I Believed in God”—a grand, gospelized finale cut from the same cloth as the early signature track “Love Is Unkind”), though they essentially serve to reiterate that Danko Jones doesn’t give a shit about either of those topics. Because, ultimately, Rock and Roll Is Black and Blue is focused on who’s inflicting the bruises: that “Conceited” “Type of Girl” with the kind of “Legs” that force you to “Get Up” and feel “Terrified” until you scream “Don’t Do This!”. And that’s just how this self-professed “Masochist” likes it.