The last decade or so has done wonders for Joan Jett‘s (not so) Bad Reputation. First Kristen Stewart played her in 2010’s The Runaways, a rollicking biopic about the pioneering all-female band she co-founded as a teenager. Then in 2015, a year after she sang ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ with the surviving members of Nirvana at their Rock & Roll Hall of Fame reunion, she too was inducted by Miley Cyrus, who hailed her as a “superwoman” who “made the world evolve”.
The 2018 documentary Bad Reputation didn’t dig too deeply into Jett’s private life, which is always the way this proudly old-school rocker has played it, but did highlight how she claimed space in an overwhelmingly male-dominated field. At this point, her legendary status must be guaranteed.
Though Jett remains a touring warhorse when there’s no pandemic getting in her way, new music clearly isn’t top of the agenda these days. ‘Changeup’ is her first non-compilation album in nine years, but it features no new songs. Instead, it offers new acoustic takes on 25 tracks from Jett’s back catalogue including live staples such as ‘Cherry Bomb’, ‘Light Of Day’ and ‘Bad Reputation’. However, her indelible signature hit is conspicuous by its absence; maybe recording an unplugged version of a song called ‘I Love Rock ‘N’ Roll’ felt like a troll move?
As befits a straight-up rock ‘n’ roller like Jett, ‘Changeup’ is a no-frills affair that doesn’t overdo the studio polish. At times, her raw and raspy vocals are so unvarnished it’s not unlike stumbling into a New York dive bar and finding Joan Jett & The Blackhearts doing an impromptu acoustic set. And in the process, it provides a welcome reminder that Jett has some cracking tunes in her arsenal. ‘I Love Playing With Fire’, a song she originally recorded with The Runaways in 1977, remains as incendiary as its title suggests. A rockabilly-ish take on ‘Crimson And Clover’ is a wide-eyed delight.
In places, the stripped-back approach almost seems to shed new light on her lyrics. The usually spiky ‘Victim Of Circumstance’ becomes kind of touching, especially when Jett sighs: “They say that I’m demented and I never could sing.” And there’s no missing the not-so-subtle allusions to S&M on this new, more subdued ‘Love Is Pain’. “You are my pup, I’ll beat you up in every way,” she sings on the first verse.
The result is a fun, nostalgic listen that will also make you want to play the hard-rocking originals. For this reason, it feels like a job well done.
Release date: March 25
Record label: Blackheart Records Group