Sunday, January 3, 2016

Fast Forward, by Joe Jackson - Album of the week

Joe Jackson is one of my odd-ball friends, dating way back to college days when he was a talented smart-ass, and up to today when he's willfully weird, but talented enough to make it all work.  "Fast Forward" is a perhaps too-clever-for-it's-own-good, perhaps self-indulgently non-pop, flexing of astonishing musical muscle.

Albums like this make me regret my musical ignorance.  In the New Yorker, Jackson observes about his title and opening track, "It’s a cycle, and it goes in minor thirds from B to D to F to A flat and back down again.  It’s a sort of a clever technical trick—one of those things that sounds simple, but it took a lot of work to figure it out.”  Sadly, that is complete mumbo-jumbo to me - but I'm an alert enough listener to hear that something thoughtful is going on in the music, and it definitely works.  Joe Jackson has always had a way of planting melodies in my brain that stick with me forever. I saw him live in 1978 and I can still recall the frenzy of notes that kicked off "Sunday Papers".  (As an aside, I am determined to learn more about the structure of music in 2016 - if you recommend any resources, please let me know.)

This is not the Joe Jackson from 1978 and "Look Sharp", though.  He's more of a jazz musician now - his sound is based on piano and voice.  There's not a rocking song on this album, and nothing even aimed at a big demographic.  It's like he's had his fame, and now he's content to play for the NPR audience.  At 61, he's matured along with his initial audience.

It's easier for me to talk about Jackson's lyrics. He's brilliant at putting words together in fresh ways.  Some complain, perhaps justifiably, that he is wordy, but I think it's justified by the gems you find each time you listen.  Here are a few that grabbed me:

  • And you and me age disgracefully/And have way too much fun. (Fast Forward)
  • If I could see your face/The face of the girl behind the veil/I'd ask you if it feels like a guarantee/To keep you down, or keep you safe/Or just keep you pale/But what makes me think you'd even talk to me (If I Could See Your Face)
  • God must think he's God or something/Lording it over us/Seems to like to make us feel/Ridiculous/Gives us just one life then he lets us/Think it's not enough/Where can we get a better deal (Keep on Dreaming)
There's more to enjoy - if you listen, you'll find your own turns of phrase that engage you and make you smile.

Robin's review of the album provides a lot more depth than my own - she breaks it down into the four sections recorded in four cities that Jackson originally intended to released in four separate EPs.  She's obviously quicker to return to top form in her music after a vacation than I was!

Next up:  Return of the Tender Lover, by Babyface

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