Monday, June 16, 2008

Number 490 - Joe Jackson


Number 490

Joe Jackson

"Stepping Out"

(1982)
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Genre:Alt Pop
Joe Jackson is highly underrated by the music history books. His 1982 breakthrough album "Night & day" is decades ahead of its time and although not credited, is many an influence for bands like Yellowcard, Finch, Unwritten Law, Taking Back Sunday, Sum 41 .. well, you get the drift. Not that many of the above mention bands would agree with me, mainly because they probably haven't even heard of the "Grandmaster of Alternative Punk". 1982 was swamped with New Wave, on the radio, on the TV, it was everywhere. In fact, New Wave was so popular, that Joe Jackson's "Night & Day" album was classed as ... yup, you got it .. New Wave. Clearly it is not New Wave, but back then it was to hard to define. It (the album) had a fusion of Punk, Pop, Soul, Jazz & Jive, so I guess they (experts) classed it as New Wave because they didn't know what to call it. They still probably don't, and to be honest, I can't either, unless "Gem" is now a classification.
what clutter?
1982 will forever be known as the year that the punks got class -- or at least when Joe Jackson and Elvis Costello, rivals for the title of Britain's reigning Angry Young Man -- decided that they were not just rockers, but really songwriters in the Tin Pan Alley tradition. (Graham Parker, fellow angry Brit, sat this battle out, choosing to work with Aerosmith producer Jack Douglas instead.) Both had been genre-hopping prior to 1982, but Jackson's Night and Day and Costello's Imperial Bedroom announced to the world that both were "serious songwriters," standing far apart from the clamoring punkers and silly new wavers. In retrospect, the ambitions of these two 27-year-olds (both born in August 1954, just two weeks apart) seem a little grandiose, and if Imperial Bedroom didn't live up to its masterpiece marketing campaign (stalling at number 30 on the charts without generating a hit), it has garnered a stronger reputation than Night and Day, which was a much more popular album, climbing all the way to number four on the U.S. charts, thanks to the Top Ten single "Steppin' Out." Night and Day had greater success because it's sleek and bright, entirely more accessible than the dense, occasionally unwieldy darkness of Imperial Bedroom.
Ageing gracefully
Plus, Jackson plays up the comparisons to classic pop songwriting by lifting his album title from Cole Porter, dividing the record into a "night" and "day" side, and then topping it off with a neat line drawing of him at his piano in a New York apartment on the cover. All of these classy trappings are apparent on the surface, which is the problem with the record: it's all stylized, with the feel eclipsing the writing, which is kind of ironic considering that Jackson so clearly strives to be a sophisticated cosmopolitan songwriter here. He gets the cosmopolitan, big-city feel down pat; although the record never delivers on the "night" and "day" split, with the latter side feeling every bit as nocturnal as the former, his blend of percolating Latin rhythms, jazzy horns and pianos, stylish synths, and splashy pop melodies uncannily feel like a bustling, glitzy evening in the big city. On that front, Night and Day is a success, since it creates a mood and sustains it very well. Where it lets down is the substance of the songs.
a punk in the making
At a mere nine tracks, it's a brief album even by 1982 standards, and it seems even shorter because about half the numbers are more about sound than song. "A Slow Song" gets by on its form, not what it says, while "Target" and "Cancer" are swinging Latin-flavored jams that disappear into the air. "Chinatown" is a novelty pastiche that's slightly off-key, but nowhere near as irritating as "T.V. Age," where Jackson mimics David Byrne's hyper-manic vocal mannerisms. These all fit the concept of the LP and they're engaging on record, but they're slight, especially given Jackson's overarching ambition -- and their flimsiness is brought into sharp relief by the remaining four songs, which are among Jackson's very best. There is, of course, the breakthrough hit "Steppin' Out," which pulsates anticipatory excitement, but the aching "Breaking Us in Two" is just as good, as is the haunting "Real Men" and the album opener, "Another World," a vibrant, multi-colored song that perfectly sets up the sonic and lyrical themes of the album. If all of Night and Day played at this level, it would be the self-styled masterpiece Joe Jackson intended it to be. Instead, it is a very good record that delivers some nice, stylish pleasures; but its shortcomings reveal precisely how difficult it is to follow in the tradition of Porter and Gershwin. ~ [Stephen Thomas Erlewine, All Music Guide]
For Elvis Costello see Number 876
For Graham Parker see Number 976
For David Bryne see Number 533
What does Groaping Moan think of Joe?
Night and Day is Joe Jackson's strongest album, the first on which his ambition, craft and feistiness have fused into a coherent, emotionally charged statement. His earlier albums sounded a bit too calculated to be trusted, and there are moments when Night and Day lapses into glib social commentary. But for the most part, Jackson poses a series of musical questions on such subjects as technology, violence, sex and pop aesthetics with wit and conviction. The dominant musical idiom–salsa modified for a small combo, inflected with Oriental percussion and woven through with woozy synthesizers and drum machines–is an imaginative projection of a trashy yet catchy global pop style.
Night n Day 1982 cover
Night and Day is held together by four songs in which Jackson personalizes his vision of social decay. Tinted with electropop, "Steppin' Out" portrays a couple's romantic venturing into the night as a brave act of innocence. In "Breaking Us in Two," which echoes Steely Dan's "Rikki Don't Lose That Number," Jackson debates with anguished uncertainty the boredom of monogamy versus the loneliness of independence. The album's loveliest song, "Real Men," solemnly blends string chamber music with echoes of Phil Spector, as Jackson sorts out the contradiction between the traditional male role of warrior and today's macho gay culture, finding both to be not only misogynous but antihuman: "Kill all the blacks/Kill all the reds/And if there's a war between the sexes, then there'll be no people left." Finally, in "A Slow Song," Jackson argues against the macho tyranny of overamped dance-rock: "Am I the only one/To want a strong and silent sound/To pick me up and undress me/To lay me down and caress me?" ~ [RS 376 - STEPHEN HOLDEN]
Rolling Stone magazine deemed their '490 th Song of all Time' was "Brown Sugar" by Rolling Stones. Rolling Stones have appeared in The Definitive 1000 @ Numbers #689, #767
Other songs with reference to Joe Jackson #907, #975
Rolling Stone Top 500 Songs ranked this song at Number (Stepping Out?) the Album ranked at Number (Get back to the closet bandit)
This song has a crowbarred rating of 75.7 out of 108

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