Monday, January 4, 2021

Joe's Back


I have a "High Fidelity" moment at least once a week. New records come in almost daily, some to play and some to sell. Piles are made, to be filed and to be priced. There is almost always one record that surprises me. This weekend it was Joe Jackson's "Laughter & Lust."

I played this record constantly when it was released in 1991. 

"Joe's back!" "A return to form!"

It made me think of how many times I've said this about Joe Jackson. After "I'm The Man" came "Beat Crazy," a dark record with reggae rhythms, short on pop choruses. Then, "Jumpin' Jive," his Louis Jordan inspired big band record. I love both those records now, but not as much then. "Night & Day" was not really a "return to form" but it at least had music that resembled something I loved listening to.

Then, a mostly forgettable soundtrack followed by "Body & Soul." 

"Joe's back!" 

Not really, though. He was just back to what he was exploring on "Night & Day," which wasn't really being "back," but a great record nonetheless. Then came "Big World" and...

... Joe was really "back!" 

Three sides of music that sounded like the perfect blend of the hook-filled new wave pop of "Look Sharp" and the rhythmic pulses and settings found on "Night & Day" and "Body & Soul."

Oh well, so much for Joe. "Will Power" followed and was even more forgettable than "Mike's Murder."  Then another soundtrack. "Blaze Of Glory" tried too hard, a mostly overproduced collection of too many songs, too big orchestrations, and only a few hummable tunes for my tastes.

Which brings us to 1991's 'Laughter & Lust." 


Now, before I say a few final words on "Laughter & Lust," I should point out, what followed was approximately 15 years of the same--classical, theatre, inferior sequels, and live records. And I know some may argue that there is great music to be found on all of those records. I would not disagree completely, but Joe Jackson really and truly wasn't back again until 2008's "Rain." If you're a Joe fan and you find yourself reaching for "Night & Day 2," or "Heaven & Hell," we should talk.

So, here is "Laughter & Lust," a record that I love so much, yet somehow forgot about until this weekend. I would argue that pound for pound, this is Joe's best pop record since his debut "Look Sharp" in 1978. 

Is this record forgotten or is it just how I perceive it? With the exception of the opening track, "Obvious Song, not much ever appears in Jackson's live sets and Joe toured constantly since then. I was blown away by just how many songs could have been hit singles, not the least of which is "Hit Single."

I know some purists might balk at Joe's take on "Oh Well," the cover of Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac's classic, but I think it kicks some serious ass.

If ""Laughter & Lust" hasn't been getting heavy rotation in your world, or like me, you just forgot it existed, there are worse things you could do on Monday in early January.


Troy said...

Can't argue with anything you wrote. L&L is terrific, and often overlooked. Joe's career has had so many up & downs, musically. He always follows whatever muse he has at the time, and sometimes that is really rewarding; other times it results in another CD that very rarely leaves the shelf. For instance, I loved Rain, really liked most of Fast Forward, but did not like Fool at all. But the good is so good, that I have to give most everything from him at least a fighting chance. He's earned that.

Sal Nunziato said...

I agree. "Fool" was a let down after "Fast Forward," which I thought was terrific.
While I've got you, can you comment with your e-mail address. I won't publish. I want to tell you about that Newvelle New Orleans box.

Anonymous said...

Agree. Agree.
Fool - disappointing though I do need to spend more time with it.
Fast Forward - great!
Rain - great!
L & L - great post, Sal. Right on target.


Anonymous said...

I'll give Laughter a go - the first two tracks you posted are intriguing enough

For some reason, Joe Jackson's music doesn't have a lot of staying power for me. I enjoy some for a while, but then don't feel the urge for more. When I come back to it some time later, I enjoy it again and then leave it. The three I play the most are Look Sharp, Jumpin' Jive, and The Duke.

I noticed that Beat Crazy and Volume 4 are listed as Joe Jackson Band, while nearly all the rest are just Joe Jackson. Not sure why the change for those, but Volume 4 holds up for me better than Beat Crazy.

- Paul in DK

Sal Nunziato said...

@Paul in DK,
Funny, as I was scrolling thru the discography while writing, I didn't notice Volume 4, which I love and would have included as another "Joe's Back!" I didn't see it because Discogs has it listed separately as the JJB.

daudder said...

Oh man, did you take me back. True greatness.

Cleveland Jeff said...

I made a "best of" Joe Jackson compilation (I called it "All Over The Place") that had tracks from Look Sharp(2), Volume 4(2), Laughter and Lust(2), Live 80/96(2), Night and Day(2), Blaze of Glory(1), Body and Soul(1), Jumpin' Jive(1), and Big World(4). So while I agree that Laughter and Lust was a good one, it's Big World for me as his best HE'S BACK. Here's the track list:
1. Look Sharp Look Sharp- 1979
2. Soul Kiss Big World- 1986
3. Chrome Volume 4- 2003
4. Stranger Than Fiction Laughter and Lust- 1991
5. Memphis Live 1980/86- 1988
6. Steppin’ Out Night and Day- 1982
7. Jumpin’ With Symphony Sid Jumpin’ Jive- 1981
8. You Can’t Get What You Want (‘Til You Know What You Want)
Body and Soul- 1984
9. Is She Really Going Out With Him? Live 1980/86- 1988
10. Fools In Love Look Sharp- 1979
11. Cancer Night and Day- 1982
12. The Jet Set Big World- 1986
13. Little Bit Stupid Volume 4- 2003
14. Right And Wrong Big World- 1986
15. Rant and Rave Blaze Of Glory- 1989
16. Hit Single Laughter and Lust- 1991
17. Home Town Big World- 1986

FD13NYC said...

One of his truly best albums. I love Hit Single.

kodak ghost said...

Great stuff. Used to really enjoy his blog as well. Certainly introduced me to some new music!

Jobe said...

I'm The Man is damn near a perfect pop record

kevin m said...

I love L&L and was happy to see that Vo 4 was included in this discussion as well. Both are great records and JJ hasn't played anything from them in years.

Zippy said...

Huge thanks to Sal. I've always been a fan of Joe, but never explored far beyond the few favorite albums I fell in love with at first ( N&D, Big World, Live 80/86) but this blog post has helpfully sent me on a deep dive into the realization that I've been missing a ton of great Joe I sadly should have known years ago. Even some albums ( Like Laughter and Lust) that I even bought and sadly didn't give the attention they deserved. On a mission now, thanks to Sal.

Michael Giltz said...

Wholly in agreement (especially with your comment about Vol 4 being solid too). Troy says it well -- Jackson follows his muse and has earned the right for us to listen, even if the results aren't as consistent as say Elvis Costello and his muse. I think Joe Jackson is a little more forgotten than he should be. But that's what a spotty if admirable career will get you.