Redtop headlines scream ”IS GUITAR MUSIC DEAD?!” on a regular basis. With indie-lite bands all politely plucking guitars and Ed Sheeran selling records by the truckload off the back of an acoustic six-string, the answer is no. But to quote Frank Zappa on jazz “…it just smells funny.”

Because it has ceased to be radical. It has become established. This not the guitar’s fault, it’s the fault of the majority of its players who have failed to reinvent it in interesting ways. Hendrix, John McGeoch and Kurt Cobain all reinvented the guitar in order to play their ambitions. Modern equivalents are Jack White and Annie Clarke of St. Vincent. Unfortunately, others don’t appear to be quite so ambitious.

Except for Michael Jablonka.

Thrillingly, unapologetically rock n’ roll, Jablonka’s new double A-side I Found You/Peacefully has rendered the moral majority of the 21st century’s meagre contributions to rock music irrelevant. No mere cock-rock parody this though. No AC/DC ripoff nor Guns n’ Roses copyist. Jablonka has dived headlong into the transcendent realms of psychedelia and alternative rock. There are traces of the neo-soul furrow he ploughed as a sideman for Michael Kiwanuka in his vocals. But in his guitar playing, it’s sweet, blissful, rock music.

Where the enormodome-dwelling Killers cash-in bands sound positively timid, the guitars on I Found You strike a fine balance between melody and power. Between classic rock’s intricate riffs and My Bloody Valentine’s roaring distortion. Jablonka has taken advantage of the most exciting modern developments in guitar playing and distilled them into one exhilarating sound: distortion, sound manipulation and the left for dead guitar solo.

Since the multi-platinum success of bands like Nirvana and Oasis, the guitar solo has been relegated to melody-carrying. But even in Cobain and Noel Gallagher’s hands the guitar solo had some life to it. In the hands of their immediate descendants though, even that was sucked out of the guitar solo.

Carlos Santana has said that every note should have five components: “mind, heart, body, soul and cojones.” Jablonka’s solo on I Found You carries all five ingredients in about as many notes. Proving that the simplicity of the nineties’ guitar players was a step forward, but that subsequent developments were two steps back again.

It’s the wildness of tracks like Peacefully that has been missing. Even the 00s’ slew of “I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-garage-rock” bands were noticeably tamer than their sixties counterparts. But Peacefully’s distorted bass and fuzzy effects-laden riffs bring that untamed edge to the soulful vocals. This is not rock in-extremis. This is rock in HD.

In an age where weapons of mass construction are available at cut-throat prices, it’s shocking that no one else has taken full advantage of them in the same way Jablonka has. That hip-hop and electronic music are going through incredibly fertile periods of creativity is no surprise. But that rock has not had a similar renaissance is truly flabbergasting.

The odds against Michael Jablonka’s success are so high as to be nigh-insurmountable. Through no fault of his own but through the faults of the record-consuming public. After all, Hendrix almost didn’t make it…

He was too uncompromising, too far out. Even his copycats only ever stole licks from Little Wing. No one’s had the ball to take up the gauntlet thrown down by Voodoo Chile (Slight Return) or Are You Experienced? But Jablonka has ventured into these hitherto unexplored worlds. And brought back a double A-side to prove he understood the message.

The odds against his success are so high as to be nigh-insurmountable. But if anyone should do it, it should be Michael Jablonka. For no other reason than he has scraped the rust off the guitar. And reinvented it to play his ambitions.

by James Fleming

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