Thursday, August 09, 2007

"Jack, You're Dead!" / Joe Jackson

I guess a lot of people were baffled, even turned off, by the directions (jazz, classical, movie soundtracks) Joe Jackson went after his big mid-80s success. Not me -- because I knew he'd also recorded Jumpin' Jive in 1981. Although I didn't discover it until a few years later, Jumpin' Jive connected the dots for me; it completely explains how he got from Look Sharp! to the jazziness of Night and Day.

The story, as Jackson tells it, makes complete sense; his original band broke up and Jackson needed a break after a few years of non-stop touring; then he was ill with glandular fever (mononucleosis, for us Yankees). He revived his spirits by listening to a lot of old jump-blues and swing records and eventually put a band together to work up a few gigs. Which of course turned into complete tours and an LP.

Even though these aren't Jackson original compositions, even though it was recorded earlier, for me this album represents Joe Jackson's "lost" years -- "lost" only if you have no taste for anything but rock and roll. I happen to love jazz and classical music too, so for me Joe was never lost. In the late 80s and 90s, he was just expanding his repertoire, and when he finally came back to rock 'n' roll, his music was all the richer for it.

Wry hepcat humor is a big part of all these jump-blues numbers (so that's why it runs through Joe's rock songs too) and "Jack, You're Dead" is ripe with it. Just dig the first verse: "When you've got no more assurance / Than a great big hunk of lead / You don't respond to romance -- / Jack, you're dead! / When a chick is smiling at you / Even though there's nothing said / You stand there like a statue -- / Jack, you're dead!" Bopping along brightly, with a sizzling horn section going nuts, this is the antithesis of Rat Pack cool. You feel like you should be wearing a porkpie hat just to listen to this stuff.

Clearly this is NOT drawn from the English suburban experience -- "You been always kickin' / But you stub your toes / When you ups and kicks the bucket / Just like old man Mose." On one hand, it's not about the language of the lyrics anyway, it's about those whaling horn solos and Joe's enthusiastic vocals. But on the other hand, it IS about the lyrics, and about that jaundiced, rueful frame of mind they express -- a frame of mind that seems to fit Joe Jackson like a glove. "When you get no kicks from lovin' / And the news begin to spread / All the cats will holler 'Murder!' / Jack, you dead" -- how different is this, really, from "It's Different For Girls" or "Take It Like A Man"?

The main thing, though, is that these guys seem to having a GREAT time playing this music, and you can't help but have a great time yourself listening to them. They're not working it with hipster irony; they're just excellent musicians happily exploring new territory. So maybe, in the end, Joe Jackson isn't Cab Calloway or Louis Jordan. Who cares? He's still a skinny English white guy, but he's a skinny English white guy in a porkpie hat, and he can play the piano like nobody's business. Gotta love it.

Jack, You're Dead sample

1 comment:

Julie said...

I love this whole album! Now you've goy me thinking about a porkpie hat. :-)