I like every Joe Jackson album, and nearly every song on every Joe Jackson album. I've stuck with him, literally, through Heaven And Hell, so I'm biased. After the 2000 masterpiece Night and Day II, I didn't know where he'd go next. This was a shock--on reflection that 2003 would be the 25th anniversary of the formation of his original band (who made Look Sharp!, I'm The Man and Beat Crazy from 1978-1980), he decided to give his old chaps a call and see if they'd like another go of it. Bassist Graham Maby was probably the easiest to find, having worked with Joe nearly continuously since 1980, and living in New Jersey (Joe being an adopted New Yorker himself). Guitarist Gary Sanford has been working steadily as a session musician since 1980, and Dave Houghton had retreated to Portsmouth, England and had a steady gig as half of Talking Sheep. They got together, said, "Hey, this might work!" and tore through recording an album last fall as well as playing a few UK dates.
The album is 44 minutes long, 11 tracks. The album opens with "Take It Like A Man", a racuous, fast romp that lets you know that time may not as well have passed for these guys. "Still Alive" then is a bit more guarded, a song reminiscent of Joe's last real rock album (1991's Laughter and Lust) and a great relationship song. (All of the songs on this album are about relationships, gender roles, or sexual politics. It's a lyrical free-for-all that is probably an honest reflection on Joe's place in the world--in fact, he's never sounded more confident about who he is, overall.) "Awkward Age" is a great song about how we never outgrow adolescence. (I heard this one when Joe showed up at the Ben Folds concert back in January.) "Chrome" is another slower song with a stunning melody. "Love At First Light" was a song that would have fit in on Night And Day II, a song about a one night stand that you hope will be something more. "Fairy Dust" is a song I really want johnstevensaul to hear, because I think he'd relate. "Little Bit Stupid", I think, is about drag queens. I don't know. "Blue Flame" is a song I first heard 4 years ago, and it's still cool. "Dirty Martini" is a groovy tune about New Orleans. "Thugz 'R' Us" is about poser white boy gangstas. "Bright Grey" is a song suggesting that all battles of the sexes should be eliminated by a "Lathe of Heaven"-style blurring of gender.
The band is top-notch. These guys rock. Joe's voice is great, it hasn't lost any of its range, edge, expression, or control. Graham's bass is an old friend to me at this point, and I always appreciate a visit. Dave's drums are solid and wonderful. Gary's guitar takes you back to 1980 without keeping you there the whole time. The music is mostly inspired by the first 3 albums, but "Love At First Light" and "Blue Flame" in particular are clearly tempered by the last 20 years. The whole album, in fact, while clearly a celebration of the first 3 albums also shows musical and lyrical growth from Joe as you'd expect. Even the production--while in the mid-80s Joe bought in to the whole flawless digital recording paradigm, this album is dirty, filthy, tube-screaming analog. You can hear the tape hiss, and the wow and flutter in the piano parts. It's clearly intentional, and although sometimes I'd with for crisper production, it really does suit the music well.
Buy this album if all you know of Joe is "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" You'll like it. And there's a bonus disc with that song and 5 others from his first two albums recorded live on the UK tour in the fall. Really, how can you go wrong?