Thursday, March 26, 2020

CD Odyssey Disc 1354: Joe Jackson

Another day, another round of playing Anti-Tetris every time I go outside. In Tetris, you take turns trying to compact a bunch of differently shaped blocks (called ‘tetriminos’) as tightly together as possible, with no space between them. If you do it well, your reward is a high score.

Anti-Tetris is like Tetris, except it’s a multiplayer game played in real time with people instead of tetriminos. The goal is to keep everyone as far from each other as possible. If you do it well, your reward is you help prevent the spread of COVID-19 and you know, do your part in saving the world. The stakes are quite a bit higher in Anti-Tetris.

In Tetris I used to dread the “S” and “Z” blocks. In Anti-Tetris, I dread couples walking their dogs. Give me my six feet of space, dog walkers!

OK, on to the review.

Disc 1354 is….Look Sharp!
Artist: Joe Jackson

Year of Release: 1979

What’s up with the Cover? A pair of funky shoes. Maybe it is just that I missed out on my annual Fluevog shop last weekend, but I seriously covet these shoes.

How I Came To Know It: I knew the big hit (“Is She Really Going Out With Him?” from hearing it on the radio when I was a kid, but I had never given the record a second thought. Then a bunch of friends started playing stuff for me off this record (definitely Randall did, and maybe Chris and Casey as well…) and I decided it warranted a deeper dive.

How It Stacks Up:  Joe Jackson has 21 albums spanning a career from 1979 all the way to 2019. Like many among you, I only have this one. I really like it, but I can’t stack it up against nothing.

Ratings: 5 stars

1979 was a great year for rock and roll. On the Odyssey so far I’ve reviewed Tom Petty’s “Damn the Torpedoes,” Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” and the Clash’ “London Calling.” It’s an impressive lineup of 5-star records, to which I now add “Look Sharp!”

Joe Jackson’s “Look Sharp!” is a new wave masterpiece, filled with a combination of restless energy, masterful musicianship and more than a little self-deprecating humour.

I call the record new wave, mostly because of the production and the way it jumps the beat, but Jackson defies genre. The record features reggae beats, punk, and good old classic rock and roll. Jackson holds it all together with arrangements that find a middle ground of many styles and creates his own beast.

Fools In Love” is a great example of this. It has a brilliant reggae beat, a bit of funk guitar and a more than advisable amount of whimsical jazz piano. It then extolls the virtues of being in love, while actually cutting down such sentimental sop. Listening, you won’t be sure if Jackson thinks love is a grand adventure, or just something dumb people get mixed up in. In the end, he thinks it’s both. The music is the perfect match to these competing notions, being both triumphant and tragic in equal measure.

The album is full of the angst of the young and single. “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” expresses the heartache of the one thing worse than unrequited love: unrequited love where the girl gets fully requited with some meat-head down the road. “Happy Loving Couples” isn’t a celebration of happy couples so much as it’s a dismissal of all those adorable pairs that make miserable single people even more miserable.

Jackson carries this emotional tension throughout the record. He isn’t exploring a lot of complex philosophy. “Pretty Girls” – is a song about looking at pretty girls – but he does it all with style and energy. This makes you feel like you’re there in real time, moving your eyes to the left as he sings it, trying to catch a glimpse of a passing beauty, without being creepy about it.

New Wave often sacrifices emotional resonance at the altar of its own frenetic energy, but on “Look Sharp!” every song speaks to your heart and still makes you want to jump around on the dance floor. You can take joy in the killer grooves, or you can bemoan your sad fate, or you can do both. This is a record for all moods.

So you could upload (or download) this record and then only listen to “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” After all, it is a classic rock song that sounds as fresh today as it did over 40 years ago. That simple, timeless bassline, the impeccable production and Joe’s tortured narrator singing about the one that got away…you’d be crazy not to love this song. But do yourself a favour and listen to the rest of the record, and you’ll discover that every one of them is just as deserving of your time.

Best tracks: all tracks

No comments: