Friday, December 05, 2008

Joe Jackson – Look Sharp!

JJ’s debut album featured some of the best new-wave-pop to come out of the late 70’s. The backing was stripped down minimalism that fit perfectly with the simple tunes that are so undeniably catchy that you just can’t help singing along with them. The record initially was released as a double 10” fold-out, which was freakin’ hip, too!

Sharp, edgy chords open the record in “One More Time” and Jackson’s caustic lyrics set the tone for the whole record. He must have had a really bad time with women before recording this, as the entire album is about broken relationships. But depression always makes for great music! This one is truly upbeat and probably one of the most “punky” tunes of the bunch.

More new wave-y, with syncopated rhythms, is “Sunday Papers”, a sarcastic look at the news and at the people who believe everything they read. Nice double time at the end during the “read all about it” section.

The alienated outsider comes to the forefront in his hugely successful hit, “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” The song itself is fairly slow, but insistent, and it concentrates on the story of the rejected and dejected lover who can’t believe who his would-be lover ended up with. Who couldn’t relate at some point in their life? While not super powerful, this is a great pop song with a terrific chorus.

A little more upbeat but lyrically similar is “Happy Loving Couples”, again showing his annoyance at other people’s happiness while he was alone and miserable. This is another stark, guitar-oriented pop tune. No one is the band comes off as a virtuoso but they work together in harmony and add just what is needed to the songs and nothing more.

One of the most aggressive and powerful songs is certainly “Throw it Away” – this is fast and furious with Joe’s pounding piano adding to the beat. Frantic and manic and great!

More percussion-dominated is “Baby Stick Around”, a somewhat more positive pop tune. This jumps into the title number, an almost r’n’b-ish groover with lots of great parts and another memorable chorus. I really like the middle break with the drum and guitar interplay around the basic piano chords. Nice songwriting!

Everyone was required by the British hipster police to do at least one reggae-tinged song at this time and Joe’s is the “Watching The Detectives”-styled “Fools in Love”. Kinda moody, like Costello’s tune, with dark lyrics. Much lighter fare is “(Do the) Instant Mash”, fun and inconsequential (not that there is anything wrong with that!).

A cynical treatise on women, “Pretty Girls”, has nods to Manfred Mann’s “Do Wah Diddy Diddy” while still maintaining its originality and new-wave-isms. This talks about women having the real power in this world and how Joe wishes he could switch off his libido – again, totally relatable – at least to geeky teens like I was!

“Got the Time” was frenetic enough for Anthrax to cover it and barely change it! I take back what I said about the first song – this is the wildest and punkiest tune of the bunch – and damn cool! Still crazily catchy and if you can keep from shouting along with the “1,2,3,GO!”, then you’re a better man than I! The rhythm section really gets a work out on this one. Super fun!

The CD has a couple of bonus tracks, “Don’t Ask Me” and “You Got the Fever”, but neither is exceptional. Not bad, just not as good as the tunes that made it on the album.

This is a wonderful piece of well-written, guitar-oriented, new-wave pop!

(BTW, I had a pair of the same shoes Jackson sports on the album cover in black in the 80’s!)