Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, UNVARNISHED (Best Buy Exclusive)

What happens when punk rockers get older?  Some shift to different sorts of music (like Elvis Costello), some continue with the same sort of music they always did (like the Ramones did and Green Day does), and some deal with different topics.  Unvarnished by Joan Jett & the Blackhearts continues the band's signature sound and mixes it with more mature topics.

This is not the Joan Jett who "don't give a damn 'bout my bad reputation."  Instead, Unvarnished has the rock singer pondering mortality ("Hard to Grow Up," "Fragile"), promoting individuality over bullying ("Different"), and complaining about oversharing on social media ("TMI") and the vapidity of reality television ("Reality Mentality").  The opening song "Any Weather," co-written with Dave Grolh, is a response to what happened with Hurricane Sandy.  There's no sex here, and the opposites-attract song "Bad as We Can Be" is offset by the love-ends musings of "Soulmates to Strangers."

Not that this shift is a bad thing.  While these songs lack a lot of the energy and rawness of Jett's early works (underscored by three of the four bonus tracks on the Best Buy exclusive being live versions of her early songs), Jett's voice and her band's music remain as strong as ever.  They can still rock hard, and if the lyrics are occasionally a bit too sentimental, Unvarnished is still a pretty solid album.  It may not quite have the energy of past albums, but it features a singer looking to the future instead of living in the past.

Overall grade: B+
Reviewed by James Lynch

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