Justine and The Unclean are a band I've liked very much over the years — as five previous reviews will attest. I was surprised when I realized that new full-length The Signal Light is the band's first album release in four-and-a-half years. Since late 2020, Justine Covault has been busy running her widely-beloved label Red on Red Records and putting all sorts of amazing music into the world. But she has continued to write and record with The Unclean (Janet Egan King on bass, Charles Hansen on guitar, and Jim Janota on drums). Last week a new album finally saw the light of day on Red On Red. Not surprisingly after all this time, Justine and The Unclean have amassed some incredible material. While their last mini-album, Heartaches and Hot Problems, was a fantastic release, The Signal Light takes things to another level. Even as I approached this album with high expectations, I was totally floored when I heard it. I didn't think it was possible, but Justine and The Unclean have gotten even better over these last few years!
What I love about The Signal Light is that it shows many sides of Justine and The Unclean. That rapid-fire punk-pop style that was the band's signature a few years back can still be heard on a couple tracks. But on this release, Justine and The Unclean are simply a great rock and roll band, period. Justine can write a great song in just about any style, and of course she's backed by a band that can pull if all off and then some. Lead track "Sweet Denial" is a hard-hitting rocker with hooks for days — definitive power pop in my book. From there, the band rides a hot streak straight to the end. New versions of recent Justine gems "Picking a Fight' and "You and Me Against You and Me" are even better than the originals. "Fourth Love" is perfect pop with a country soul. "Vengeance" kicks up some Rolling Stones–influenced magic. "Drug Seeking Behavior" is haunting, gorgeous pop in a '60s style. The title track is the ultimate homage to Boston garage rock. Closing ballad "When I Stopped Loving You" will tear your heart out if you're even half-way paying attention. Lyrics have always been a strong suit for Justine, but with these songs, she's cutting deeper than ever before. In the press release, she praises her bandmates for their ability turn her "inner turmoil bullshit into killer rock-n-roll." But let's be honest: all that inner turmoil bullshit is what makes Justine a great artist. She writes about life, loss, and love with incredible honesty and hard-earned wisdom. And of course she sings every word in such a way that you feel it all deeply. The Signal Light is full of songs about bitter breakups and doomed relationships, yet it also explores topics as varied as addiction, abuses of power, and the pandemic. In addition to being a remarkable love letter to Boston, the title track is anthem of hope and resilience. The song's lyrics are absolutely insane — honestly some of the finest poetry I've ever encountered in a rock tune.
Everything comes together for Justine and The Unclean on The Signal Light. This is an extraordinary collection of songs brought to life by one of the most skilled and powerful rock and roll bands going and splendidly produced by the great David Minehan. There have been a whole lot of great albums released this year already, and The Signal Light is up there with the best of 'em. Grab a compact disc today from Red on Red Records!