Picks and Pans Review: Notorious

updated 09/16/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 09/16/1991 AT 01:00 AM EDT

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts

A black, mostly leather, circulation-strangling wardrobe. A contemptuous expression. Guitars cranked up over the pain threshold. These are staples of rock and roll as we know it. Joan Jett was championing them back when, say, Skid Row's Sebastian Bach still thought groupies were a type of big flat fish.

But with this album, Jett, a usually reliable wielder of the raw and rugged, loses her bearings, wandering into the pastel lobby of the Hotel California.

Let's assign part of the fault for this squishy collection to la-la pop composer Desmond ("We All Sleep Alone") Child. He cowrote half the songs. The only interesting thing about their work is that on such tracks as "Ashes in the Wind" and "Goodbye" they devised a misbegotten new song-strain: the thunder ballad.

The blasé "Lie to Me" only reinforces Jett's vocal limitations. Even on the starchier songs with Child—"The Only Good Thing" with its heavy backbeat, say—Jett sounds curiously uncommitted. She gets so dizzy she even grafts a faux-vaudeville coda—more Rudy Vallee than Jon Bon Jovi—onto her own song "Machismo."

Now, collaboration isn't always a bad idea for Jett. It resulted in one superb song on this album, "Backlash," which Jett wrote with Paul Westerberg of the Replacements, who plays guitar on the track. Westerberg's rock disarray complements Jett's saucy snarl.

Paul, you can stay. But keep Desmond's blandishments away from our Ms. Jett. (Epic)

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