Album Review: Danko Jones – “Rock and Roll is Black and Blue”

Danko Jones, named after the band’s lead singer, has been around for over a decade, but despite their popularity in Europe as well as their native Canada, Danko Jones has failed to make much of a splash in the United States. With quality albums like 2003’s “We Sweat Blood” and 2010’s “Below The Belt” already behind them, it’s somewhat surprising they haven’t caught on in the same way similar bands like Buckcherry and Foo Fighters have, but Jones and his band continue to press onward.

For fans of Danko Jones, “Rock and Roll is Black and Blue” comes with one very large question mark in the form of drummer Atom Willard. Replacing Dan Cornelius, who had been with the band since 2005, Willard has some big shoes to fill, but any doubts are put to rest thanks to his explosive downbeat opening “Terrified.” After five quick hits of the snare drum, Danko Jones’ sixth studio album is off and running.

One interesting thing about Willard’s drumming style is that he focuses heavily on the snare drum; more so than past drummers for the band. Even on the drum fills, the snare drum is where the action is. For Danko Jones, this serves the purpose of keeping the energy of the record high every step of the way. Like most of their past material, “Rock and Roll is Black and Blue” remains very guitar-centric. Sure, bass and drums are important, but they are rarely featured. With Willard often sub-dividing the beat with additional snare hits, his role in the band is far more essential than the final mix suggests.

On “The Masochist,” for instance, Jones’ vocals, along with heavy metal guitar work, are always the feature, but the guitars are actually quite repetitive. If Willard were to just keep chugging along with snare hits on the second and fourth beats, the track would eventually lose some of its excitement. However, Willard instead varies every other measure with snare hits on the second and third beat. Although this may seem like a small change, every other measure is essentially shoving the rest of the band onward while preventing the listeners’ ears from falling accustomed to a single pattern.

Willard’s drumming techniques have been done before, however, and that is precisely the feeling listeners get throughout much of “Rock and Roll is Black and Blue.” Don’t get me wrong, fans of Danko Jones’ past records will likely still love this one, but Jones and company are starting to feel like their own cover band; rehashing old ideas and quickly thumbing through a rhyming dictionary for words that go with whatever part of the female body they’re thinking about at the moment.

There are funny moments…

“Legs, legs, the longer they get, the more foolish I get in the head.
Legs, legs, the longer they get, the more stupider I’m in the end.”

…but even the most ridiculous track of the album, “Legs,” breaks down into a cheesy rendition of Billy Squier’s “The Stroke.” You read that correctly, a cheesy rendition of “The Stroke.”

They say imitation is the highest form of flattery, but it isn’t always the right decision for a band hoping to bolster their own popularity. Listen to the first thirty seconds worth of the premiere track, “Terrified,” and you’ll think you accidentally started playing a Foo Fighters record. Unfortunately for Jones, these similarities end up highlighting his weaknesses as a vocalist. Further along the album, “Always Away” pulls a guitar riff straight out of AC/DC’s “Thunderstruck.” Once again, this otherwise strong performance is immediately overshadowed by a substantially more popular group.

Criticism aside, Danko Jones still gives listeners plenty of entertainment with “Rock and Roll is Black and Blue.” If you’re new to the band, they have certainly had better albums, but anyone who enjoys a healthy blend of rock and humor should give this one a shot.

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