think that even the most rootless traveler sometimes has to put
his foot down somewhere familiar," says Joe Jackson. "You
can't only go forward. Sometimes it's healthy to look back."
Quite a statement
for an artist who's not known for repeating himself. So it's all
the more impressive that Jackson has chosen to renew an old collaboration
on his new album. The 11-song collection reunites Jackson with the
scrappy band that accompanied him on the trilogy of LP's - Look
Sharp, I'm The Man, and Beat Crazy - that first established him
as a major artist in 1979/80.
Volume 4 - whose
release coincides with the 25th anniversary of the recording of
Jackson's landmark debut Look Sharp - is a stunning comeback for
one of the classic bands of the post-punk era: Jackson (vocals and
keyboards), Gary Sanford (guitar), Graham Maby (bass), and Dave
Produced by Jackson, the album strongly echoes the band's early
work, without straining to imitate it. The all-new compositions
merge the early albums' raw rock'n'roll energy and barbed lyrical
wit with the emotional depth and musical sophistication of Joe's
Volume 4 is
a bracing blend of sonic adrenaline, lyrical insight and sterling
song craft. As on the early albums, the Joe Jackson Band put their
distinctive stamp on an assortment of styles, from the jangling
melodic pop of "Still Alive" to the jazzy, hyperactive
"Fairy Dust" and the greasy funk of "Dirty Martini".
Tunes such as "Awkward Age", the retro glam-rock anthem
"Little Bit Stupid" and the ska-pop excursion "Thugz
R Us" are among the catchiest Jackson's written, reveling in
the spiky humor which has always been a key element in his songwriting.
"Take It Like a Man" and "Bright Grey" show
that the band can rock at least as hard as they ever did, while
three more introspective songs ("Chrome," "Blue Flame,"
and "Love at First Light") show a sensitivity and maturity
only hinted at in 1979.
as surprised as anyone that the reunion has occurred at all, let
alone yielded such stellar results. "I never thought this would
happen," says Jackson, who is based in New York but keeps a
house in his hometown of Portsmouth, England. "But at some
point it struck me that 2003 would be our 25th anniversary - which
was quite a staggering thought! I started to wonder if some kind
of reunion might be fun, and the more I thought about it, the more
appealing it seemed. At that point, I had about six finished songs,
and I realised they'd all work well with that band, so I started
getting excited about the idea of a new album. Next I sat down with
each of the band members to see how they felt about it, and they
were so enthusiastic
that at that point it seemed silly not to do it!"
prodigy Jackson was already a young musical veteran (with a resume
that included the Royal Academy of Music, the National Youth Jazz
musical directorship of a Playboy Club, and a proto-punk band called
Arms and Legs) when Look Sharp was released into the charged post-punk
atmosphere of January 1979. The album's hard-hitting, melodically
concise tunes and passionately articulate lyrics struck a responsive
chord on both sides of the Atlantic. The Jackson/Sanford/Maby/Houghton
lineup was remarkably productive, refining its approach on I'm The
Man and stretching into new sonic territory with Beat Crazy. When
they weren't in the studio, the band toured almost continuously.
together for a much shorter time than I realised," Jackson
notes. "We got together in the summer of '78, recorded Look
Sharp in August, and just kept going through to the end of 1980.
We toured very hard, but then again, we were very young and it was
an adventure. This was all heady stuff, because so much of it was
new - traveling internationally, playing bigger places, being on
TV. It's kind of like you've gone through a war; you'll always have
that bond because of what you've experienced together."
success, Jackson chose to put the band to rest and move on to new
musical challenges: the ahead-of-its-time swing project Jumpin'
Jive (1981), the sophisticated urban pop of Night and Day (1982)
and Body and Soul (1984), the stripped-down, live-to-two-track Big
World (1986), the majestic, semi-autobiographical Blaze of Glory
(1989), the more mainstream but still idiosyncratic Laughter and
Lust (1991), the gentle, soul-searching Night Music (1994), the
innovative song-cycle based on the Seven Deadly Sins, Heaven and
Hell (1997), and the album Joe considers his best, Night and Day
II (2000). There have been two live albums (Live 1980-86 in 1987
and Summer in the City - Live in New York in 2001) and Jackson has
also distinguished himself with scores for several films, including
Francis Ford Coppola's Tucker and James Bridges' Mike's Murder,
and two albums of instrumental music, Will Power (1987) and the
non-traditional, non-orchestral Symphony No. 1, which won the 2001
Grammy award for Best Pop Instrumental Album. In 1999, Jackson published
a well-received book, A Cure For Gravity, which he describes as
"a book about music thinly disguised as a memoir."
reassembled his former cohorts in the UK, it didn't take long for
the musicians to tap into their old chemistry. "We did seven
small warm-up gigs in England, just to sort of get our juices flowing,"
Jackson explains. "By the third or fourth, we were just flying.
These guys blew me away, they played so great."
continued to produce sparks when the quartet began recording Volume
4 at Ridge Farm in Surrey, England. "The recording process
was fast, fun, and easy, which isn't always the case," says
Jackson. "We recorded in ten days, about the same time as Look
Sharp. We did it completely without computers - no ProTools, no
sequencers, none of that stuff. Just live to 24-track analog tape.
I overdubbed some of the piano parts, but most of the songs are
2nd or 3rd takes."
intrigued by the idea of nostalgia lately, and there's a nostalgic
element to this project, even to some of the songs," Jackson
says. "That's something that surprised me, because I'm not
a very nostalgic person. But now my feeling is that it's a healthy
thing as long as you know what you're doing and don't get trapped
in it - sort of like a recreational drug. I could never have done
this ten or fifteen years ago, because then I was more concerned
with moving on. But now I'm at a point where I'm comfortable with
what I've done and with where I am now, and this just feels right".
nostalgic about the artist's enthusiasm for Volume 4. I've got to
say I love this album, and it feels very special to me. It's always
special when something you never thought would happen happens, and
then turns out even better than you imagined; I mean, how often
does that happen?! It's not quite like picking up where we left
off, but it doesn't feel like twenty years have gone by, either.
It almost feels like we took three or four years off and then came
back to make the killer fourth album. I think this is the best thing
Jackson is equally
excited about the prospect of hitting the road with his old compatriots.
"We're gonna do quite a big tour, and hopefully go to some
places that we never got to the first time around, like Australia
and Japan. I think we're all really enthused about going on the
road, and it's very sweet to have this opportunity again."