Pawn Shoppe Heart reminds me of the moment near the beginning of Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid when the movie bursts from sepia tone into glorious color. Sure, Lack of Communication, the Von Bondies’ 2001 debut, had garage-revivalist heart to burn, but it sounded like it was recorded inside a rat’s ass (thank coproducer/ex-pal Jack White for that). Fetishize old technology all you like, but when Jason Stollsteimer belts out, “You really haven’t lived life yet / If you ain’t got no regrets!” on the new album’s evil, stomping opening track, it crosscut-shreds the air in a way the MC5 only dreamed of.
“C’mon C’mon,” the album’s first single, opens with a simple slap-backed guitar riff and quickly reclaims Nirvana’s quiet-verse/loud-chorus formula. Stollsteimer rages about how “things were good when we were young,” rhythm guitarist Marcie Bolen and bassist Carrie Smith intone the refrain as if nothing could interest them less,and Don Blum pounds his toms like he’s playing Whac-a-Mole. This song will make you want to get a tattoo, stab your homeroom teacher, and pick up reform-school girls. It will make you forget that there are other songs on Earth, let alone on this album.
But don’t hit that previous button just yet.”Mairead” is the kind of swampy dirge that garage bands have been falling back on since the Cramps discovered leather pants, but the Von Bondies’ calling card is the urgency of Stollsteimer’s voice as it sands down the shopworn chord progressions. On “The Fever,” he warbles, “She don’t know what she’s talking about,” as his bandmates make a cheerleader chant out of the song’s title. He may just be playing at being a working-class hero, but when he sings, “This is my broken band from a broken land — called Dee-troit city!” in “Broken Man,” you can hear the Stroh’s pushing through his sweat glands. “There’s no blood on these hands,” he dry heaves. “That’s why we cannot take a stand!”
You keep playing, Jason. It’s what you’re good at.