JOE JACKSON ON 'HEAVEN AND HELL'
(Edited from several interviews)
Q. Your new album is based on the Seven Deadly Sins. What made you choose this particular theme?
A. Well, I want to say right away that the theme isn't the main point: the music is. Initially I was looking for a structure, some kind of structure to hang the musical ideas on. In other words, I'm a composer, not a philosopher or a theologian, and I wasn't looking to make a philosophical statement, or preach a sermon. That wasn't my main motivation. But I do like the idea of a musical project which is very eclectic being held together by a central theme.
Q. A Concept Album?
A. Oh my God, don't say that! But, I guess it is a concept album, I actually wanted to write a concept album! I know 'concept album' is a dirty word - or two dirty words - but that's because so many concept albums have been garbage. The actual idea, of having a theme rather than just throwing a bunch of songs together at random, seems like a good idea to me.
Q. So, why the Seven Deadly Sins?
A. Because I'm a sinner, we're all sinners. We each have all seven inside us. We each have both Heaven and Hell inside us, too. This is one of those timeless, universal themes that it's impossible not to be interested in, it seems to me. It's a very rich vein to mine. And I was especially interested in the order of the Sins, the traditional order, which goes back hundreds of years, where there's a progression from the least bad to the worst. It suggested a sort of journey to me, and the more I thought about it, the more it suggested a musical structure, too. For instance, Sloth comes right in the middle, and it's long and slow, to the point where you start to feel like you're just never going to be able to get going again - and then you have an explosion of violent energy, with Anger, which is the only way to get out of that Black Hole of Sloth.
Q. Can you tell us some more about the process of writing this? How long did it take? What were the difficulties?
A. This is nearly three years of work, both writing and research. In the early stages, I was a bit intimidated by it. I thought I'd bitten off more than I could chew. Then I started to tell myself that I wasn't competing with Dante and Milton and William Blake and Kurt Weill and so on - it was OK for me to do my version, which could be as valid as anyone else's; whether it's better or worse is not for me to judge anyway. Then as I got deeper into it, the theme actually helped me. It was really inspiring.
Q. What do you think is special, or different, about your particular interpretation? What do you want people to get out of it?
A. Like I said, I didn't want to preach a sermon; I didn't want to be didactic. I think my take on this is quite irreverent, and satirical. Of course, it's deadly serious as well. I see life as being extremely serious, horrifying, and at the same time wonderfully absurd and funny. It's full of paradoxes, and as you get older, it seems to me that you have to realise this more and more and learn to embrace it. So I think my work reflects that way of looking at things. This whole project is about contrasts and paradoxes. Good and evil, pain and pleasure, beauty and ugliness.
I think all the Deadly Sins have both light and dark sides. They're all basic human impulses and we can't get rid of them; we have to learn to work with them, without letting them destroy us. For instance, a certain amount of Pride is good - when it manifests itself as self-respect. But the bigger someone's Pride gets, the more dangerous it is - that's why it was always considered the worst Sin of all, the Sin of Lucifer, because if you're overtaken by Pride, you're capable of anything - all the other Sins. Or Sloth, which is a much worse Sin than people realise. Every time you hear someone say, "I can't be bothered," or "it's not my problem," or "what's the point?" that's Sloth talking. It's totally negative and it leads ultimately to nihilism and despair. But then again, if you're a workaholic, a dose of Sloth might be exactly what you need. So, everyone has a different kind of Sin-chemistry.
Q. What about Lust? Most people don't seem to want to see that as a sin.
A. I think it can be a sin if it becomes obsessive to the point where it blinds you to other realities. Like for instance the fact that the object of your lust is a human being. But it seems to me that the repression of sexuality is a sin too.
Q. So you're basically ambiguous about Sin?
A. I wouldn't say that exactly. I think I have a definite point of view. It's just not moralistic or judgmental. I don't believe that you can banish the Devil. He's there inside you whether you like it or not, so you have to let him out and make friends with him. Or at least learn something from him. But you can't trust him too far, of course. You can't follow him all the way, or you're in trouble. You need to know when to resist him too. And a really good weapon for that is Laughter, by the way. The Devil can't stand to be laughed at.
Q. How would you describe the musical style of the album?
A. I can't. I'm well aware that it's very eclectic and it's hard to categorise, but I can't help it - that's just the way it comes out. I do think it has a distinctive style, but it's my style, you can't place it squarely in one genre or another. In a lot of ways it's like a musical collage, taking elements from a lot of different places, but with a definite purpose - all of those elements are there for a reason.
Q. Can you say a bit about each of the tracks, and the guest performers on them?