Wednesday, 20 June 2018

Joe Jackson - Look Sharp! (1979)

From my window I'm staring while my coffee grows cold....

  

Released March 1979

Recorded in Portsmouth

Joe Jackson had this to say about his 1979 debut and I have to say it really says so much about a) this album and b) attitudes to debut albums in general:-

What can anyone say about something they did so long ago?! I'm not embarrassed by it, or not by most of it, anyway. It positively reeks of London 1978–79 and, well, it is what it is. I'm glad people liked it, and still like it, though I think some of that is nostalgia and a tendency to romanticise peoples' first albums, as though later ones must somehow be less 'authentic'. For a first album, this one's not bad, but I was only 23 when I made it and it would be pretty weird if I didn't think I'd done better things since....”

He is bang on the money about the romanticism of debut albums. So many of them are retrospectively perceived as having “raw” appeal. This certainly applies to “Look Sharp” and, to a certain extent, it is true. There is an exciting, rough-edged energy about it from an artist who was following in the geeky, anti-hero shoes of Graham Parker and Elvis Costello. However, it is not a patch on “Night And Day”, “Body And Soul”, “Big World” or “Blaze Of Glory”.

Joe Jackson seemed to have found himself at the vanguard of the “new wave” by default, because he wore punk-era thin ties and drainpipe trousers and had the afore-mentioned anti-rock star look. Therefore, it was almost as if he was under pressure to be “punky”, whereas, as would be shown in later years, his tastes were for jazz, big band and even classical music. But, 1978-79 was all about musical brevity, back to basics and a “new wave” which eschewed anything lengthy or too experimental. So, new wave it would be, at least for the first two albums.

TRACK LISTING

1. One More Time
2. Sunday Papers
3. Is She Really Going Out With Him?
4. Happy Loving Couples
5. Throw It Away
6. Baby Stick Around
7. Look Sharp!
8. Fools In Love
9. (Do The) Instant Mash
10. Pretty Girls
11. Got The Time                                            

The standout fast(er) tracks are the frenetic, punky/reggae-ish thrash with smart-ass lyrics of the opener “One More Time”; the cynical and again reggae-styled “Sunday Papers"; the punky, breakneck “Got The Time” and the madcap , Costello-ish “Baby Stick Around”. Many tracks have that Police-influenced white reggae sound, including “Happy Loving Couples” and also the title track. “Throw It Away” is a frantic thrash very reminiscent of the material on the first Police album.

Then there is the catchy, “new wave” single, “Is She Really Going Out With Him” and the album’s best track, the bassy, new wave reggae ballad “Fools In Love”. That track is just so typical of 1979. That reggae guitar sound, rumbling bass and slightly clumsy non-Jamaican drum sound that does its best.


Jackson’s voice is a unique sneer, like Parker and Costello but in a far worse mood. “Happy Loving Couples” lays on the miserable envy of the couples of the title a bit too thick. It was bad enough in “Is She Really Going Out With Him”, but that song had a bit of humour. Here Jackson just comes across as a bitter geek. “Pretty Girls” sort of ploughs the same furrow, but it has a strange “doo-wop”/Manfred Mann pastiche appeal. “(Do The) Instant Mash” is a bit silly, to be honest, not as good as most of the material. Of the bonus tracks,  “Don’t Ask Me” is a fast-paced punky number, while the slowed down rock feel of “You Got The Fever” gave hints as to the musical direction of the next two albums.

Overall, a raw, vibrant debut, but like the debuts of The Clash, The Police, The Jam, Elvis Costello, Blondie and Stiff Little Fingers it was nowhere near as polished as later work, but I guess the cliche of “authentic” does apply.

B-

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