Wednesday, 27 January 2021

999

 

999 (1978)



Me And My Desire/Chicane Destination/Crazy/Your Number Is My Number/Hit Me/I'm Alive/Titanic (My Over) Reaction/Pick It Up/Emergency/No Pity/Direct Action Briefing/Nobody Knows


There is not a huge amount that can be said about 999's March 1978 debut. It is classic punk meets new wave fare - fastly strummed guitar, rumbling bass, thumping, metronomic drums and a bleating , whining vocal, supplied here by Nick Cash. It is pretty much 1978-79 second division punk-by-numbers and sounds somewhat dated these days. It is not without its appeal, though, and it gets me somewhat nostalgic. I remember seeing the band live along with many other gigs by many others like them - consequently I can't recall too much about it, other than I went to see them play their single, Emergency. They ranked alongside The Ruts, The Rezillos, Penetration and Generation X for me, at the time, and still do. They were perfectly ok, but had nothing that made them extra-special. I have still enjoyed revisiting the album, though. It's 1978 again. 


Me And My Desire is a mid-paced piece of guitar punk while Chicane Destination is faster and more obviously punk in style. Crazy is slightly rock 'n' roll-ish in that punk-new wave style that was quite common in the late 70s. It is almost glammy in places. 


Your Number Is My Number is more new wave than punk while Hit Me is back to breakneck, riffy punk (it sounds like those punky songs Bruce Foxton wrote for the Jam in places) as indeed is the frantic I'm Alive. A change of sound and pace can be found (to an extent) on the infectious, bassy groove of Titanic (My Over) Reaction, a track that unusually featured its parentheses in the middle of the title. It features a nice guitar solo and a melodic bass line. A good track all over.


Pick It Up doesn't break the mould much and then we get the afore-mentioned Emergency, which was one of the great underrated punk singles. Sure, it was second division, but it still had something that makes it worthy of putting into any punk playlist. Its riff was brooding and post punk and it chugs along most satisfactorily.


The last three - No Pity, Direct Action and Nobody Knows are all fast punkers in no real need of analysis. I am sorry that I can't find too much more to say about this, particularly on a track-by-track basis, other than it it is entirely representative of much punk music from 1978-79 and it's a lot of fun.


I have to say, though, that albums like this, while ok for half an hour, have not travelled as well as those from other genres - quite a lot of soul, reggae, heavy rock, blues rock, psychedelia and even prog still sound credible today, whereas this, for all its gritty raw appeal, sounds very much stuck back in 1978.


** Another great single they did was Homicide, which is well worth checking out. It shares that gritty punk-new wave atmosphere that made Emergency such a great track.

Tuesday, 26 January 2021

The Cure

 

















Three Imaginary Boys (1979)




10.15 Saturday Night/Accuracy/Grinding Halt/Another Day/Object/Subway Song/Foxy Lady/Meathook/So What/Fire In Cairo/It's Not You/Three Imaginary Boys/The Weedy Burton


I never really got into The Cure. I knew a few singles and I think I saw them live, sharing the bill with Wire, but I can't quite remember. Their seemingly impenetrable brand of dark-clad post punk just wasn't really my thing. I much preferred the energy and fist-pumping of punk. Anyway, this was their debut album, from May 1979 and, although it went unnoticed by me at the time, it stands as one of the full-on post punk trail blazers - stabbing guitar riffs, rubbery bass lines, metronomic drums and a vocal full of ennui. Their temperamental, precious singer Robert Smith was never happy with the album, apparently, and it was compiled without his consent. That sort of added to the intrigue that surrounded this mysterious group. Their music, however, was often more listenable than one may have imagined. There is also an appealing rough and ready sound to this album. I should have give it more attention back in 1979, but I had many other artists taking my attention.


For many, this is as carefree and poppy as The Cure ever got, their subsequent albums were far more downbeat. 


10.15 Saturday Night is a classic example of the group's surprisingly accessible, catchy post punk. It has an absolute killer of a guitar solo in it too, together with an unnerving bass line. Accuracy features Robert Smith's deadpan bored-sounding voice at its most archetypal. The same applies to the Joy Division meets PIL vibe of Grinding Halt


Another Day reminds me of similar slow, sombre, moody offerings from The Buzzcocks and Magazine from the same period, a time when punk's anger and fury had dissipated into insecure student navel-gazing. It was that that sort of turned me off it at the time, but I cannot deny that the track is full of foreboding, depressing atmosphere. Smith's vocal is very Steve Harley-esque at times on this, which showed his possible influences. Harley liked a bit of broodiness too. 


Object brings the tempo up again on an edgy, riffy, punky thrash while the sub-two minute Subway Song has a wonderful bass line and a finger-clicking late-night groove about it. Its vague reggae tinges fitted in with the zeitgeist as well. The oddly incongruous, quirky cover of The Jimi Hendrix Experience's Foxy Lady is something of an interesting, but perplexing curio. 


Meat Hook also ploughs that late seventies white reggae furrow, effectively. It sounds so very 1979 and the fuzzy, punchy So What is full of PIL-style post punk, bleating bad-tempered rage, along with a stuttering Buzzcocks-style vocal. Fire In Cairo is one of the album's most pleasing tracks, melodically, sounding sort of punky and new wavey simultaneously, although quite why the title's letters needed to be recited is unclear. 


It's Not You is a very Buzzcocks-esque punky number that reminds me that it was still early 1979 when this was released - punkiness was still ok. Three Imaginary Boys is an enjoyably melodic and beautifully bassy mid-paced number while the short instrumental closer, The Weedy Burton, shows the breeziness that the band occasionally showed that they could use, as indeed they did on their irresistible hit single, The Lovecats.



Seventeen Seconds (1980)



A Reflection/Play For Today/Secrets/In Your House/Three/The Final Sound/A Forest/M/At Night/Seventeen Seconds


Never mind post punk, this, The Cure’s second album, has been viewed retrospectively as the first gothic rock album. A genre was born. Having been playing guitar with Siouxsie & The Banshees, Robert Smith  came back wanting to deliver a sound similar to that of Steve Severin and Budgie. He managed it too, serving up a supremely dark yet strangely classy album. It was also supremely influential, on bands like The Stranglers, contemporaries Joy Division and Echo & The Bunnymen and, in reverse, on The Banshees.


It is a short album - which given its sombre soundscapes is possibly not a bad thing - and it is one that I have to say that I really like. It has a great sound quality to it and bags of atmosphere. It has to be regarded as one of the great, if not slightly overlooked, early eighties albums.


After an ambient, atmospheric instrumental opener in A Reflection, Play For Today is wonderful in its melodic bleakness, featuring a lovely deep bass sound. Indeed the same can be said of both the subtly attractive Secrets and In Your House. There is a mature competence and depth to this material that contrasts markedly with the often punky/post punky edginess of their debut album.


Tracks like the sombrely grandiose Three and the new romantic-style synth-driven and spacey A Forest both display a very Joy Division noir ambience to them. The latter is a beautifully atmospheric track. I can come up with similar descriptions for M and the magnificent and moody At Night. Smith’s voice is mournful and detached on the latter - this man, just as much as Ian Curtis, was a true master of misery. Seventeen Seconds, of course, didn’t lift the gloomy feel at all, and it would been strange if it had. The album ends as morosely as it began. This is an album for the dark depths of winter. 


As with the previous album, I really wish I had got into this back in 1980, but there was so much other music around that took up my attention. I am enjoying getting into it now, all these years later.



The Cure were also, like many punk and post punk bands, known for their stand-alone singles and it was here that the more commercial sound of the band was heard. A few of these are well worthy of a mention. 


The lyrically controversial Killing An Arab (it was inspired by a 1942 French novel by Albert Camus) reminds me very much of the John Peel show in its rudimentary, raw sound, taking me right backs to those late nights listening to the radio  in my teenage bedroom. It was one of their tracks I knew from back then, along with the supremely catchy, jangly Boys Don’t Cry. Surely The Smiths were influenced by this. It predates so much mid eighties guitar pop.


Jumping Someone Else’s Train is a lively number with more Smiths-like vibes to it and some infectious percussion-bass parts. 


The upbeat Primary and the Gang Of Four-ish, mysterious Other Voices are excellent cuts from the 1981 album, Faith. 


Charlotte Sometimes was a surprisingly downbeat choice for a stand-alone single, with its mournful vocals and bleak, somewhat muffled sound. From 1982’s Pornography album came the drum-driven The Hanging Garden


Three more notable stand-alone singles were the staccato, quirky but appealing Let’s Go To Bed, the synthy pop groove of The Walk and, lest I forget, the incredibly catchy fun of The Lovecats


Wire

 

Pink Flag (1977)


Reuters/Field Day For The Sundays/Three Girl Rhumba/Ex Lion Tamer/Lowdown/Start To Move/Brazil/It's So Obvious/Surgeon's Girl/Pink Flag/The Commercial/Straight Line/106 Beats That/Mr. Suit/Strange/Fragile/Mannequin/Different To Me/Champs/Feeling Called Love/1 2 x U


I have to say that this, Wire's debut album, from December 1977, completely passed me by despite the fact that I think I saw them live double-heading with The Cure, but I can't remember for sure. The album didn't do particularly well at the time and there was so much other new stuff to get excited about - The Clash, The Jam, The Ramones, The Stranglers, Elvis Costello, Blondie etc etc. It is also an extremely oddly-conceived album - its 35 minutes contain 21 tracks, many of them under one minute in length. Were they taking the Ramones' get in there and thrash out as many songs as possible to the nth degree or were they subtly introducing a grinding, industrial post-punk ideology before punk itself had even started? Whatever, it is a most unusual album and there is no doubt that some of it is ahead of its time and was hugely influential on much of the post-punk material that emerged over the following couple of years. It is now, retrospectively, considered to be one of the great punk albums and is often found coveted by people you wouldn't expect liked punk albums, bizarrely.


Although very much of its time, it still sounds incredibly energetic and invigorating today, although there is a far darker side to this than much of The Ramones' goofier material. 


The album is musically minimalist - choppy guitar, punky rolling bass lines, pounding drums and oikish punk vocals.  The best tracks are the longer ones - the post punk before its time grind of Reuters, the punk thump of Ex-Lion Tamer, the equally powerful and sombre Lowdown, the chaotic Pink Flag and the gloriously menacing slow grunge of Strange. The sound on this launched many a moody post punk band. The catchy Mannequin is a good one too. 


The shorter tracks, on the whole, are punky riffy thrashes that invariably end too soon. They sound great, though. Fine examples of this are the excellent Fragile and the almost poppy Champs. It does give the album a lack of cohesion, though, and many of the tracks have the feel of studio demo experiments. You just have to learn to live with them. Whereas the prog rock bands of the early seventies released "suites" of music that lasted a whole side of a vinyl LP, here the opposite occurs, the suite being made up of as many short snippets as possible. 


That is about as much as I can say, it defies deeper analysis other than to say that if you want to blow the cobwebs away with a maelstrom of manic punchy punk energy, stick this on. In many ways it as pure a punk album as you could wish for. It's a bit of a shame it has taken me twenty-four years to get round to properly listening to it. On the other hand, it now sounds very much a period piece and I can see why I preferred the sixties-influenced Jam, the ear for an anthem Clash or the goofy bubblegum-pop punk of The Ramones. Those artists' work still stands up today whereas more visceral punk has not really stood the test of time. I find myself listening to The Grateful Dead these days. How things change...






Monday, 25 January 2021

Camel

 














Mirage (1974)




Freefall/Supertwister/Nimrodel/Earthrise/Lady Fantasy


This album, from 1974, is said to be one of the cornerstones of the prog rock genre, a genre I have my problems with, as regular readers will know. However, as you will also know, I am attempting to break down my prog barriers, so I will give this a listen.


I quite like Freefall, the opener, due its powerful riffs, solid drumming and swirling keyboards. the keyboards-cymbals interplay in the middle is almost like avant-garde jazz. The bass is nice and deeply rumbling too although the vocal is a bit proggy. The overall sound is, of course proggy, but there is something more rock about it that makes me prefer it to the quasi-classical, keyboard-driven noodling of Emerson, Lake & Palmer. it is prog ROCK in the best sense. Yes, it is still based around typical prog indulgence, but it retains some appeal for me. 


The instrumental Supertwister is a slower, more dreamy, laid-back number, featuring a gentle flute (played by Andrew Latimer) and more jazzy vibes. I really quite like this too.


Nimrodel is one of those multi-part "suites" that prog rock bands specialised in. Here I find I like the instrumental passages but am not so much a fan of the vocal bits. Look, it is all too rambling and overdone for me but I cannot deny that the band could play. The track, and the album, have a great sound quality to it - lots of warm bass and less of the ELP-style discordance. I like the mid-song guitar part and the spacey cymbals-keyboards break around 7:30. 


The instrumental Earthrise is tuneful and richly bassy. Once more, it is something I can listen to. as always with this sort of music, I am never going to return to it regularly, but I am happily enjoying this as I write. Some more fine guitar can be found in the middle. Although Lady Fantasy is a twelve minute-plus opus it has an appealing gentle catchiness to it that perfectly exemplifies the group's musical dexterity and comparative accessibility. Yesterday I listened to Emerson, Lake & Palmer's Brain Salad Surgery and had to turn it off. Give me this any day. Listen to that great funky stereo bit at 3.:58 when the guitar, bass, keyboards and drums kick in - good stuff. Ditto the guitar soloing around ten minutes in. 



Camel sound, to me, far more melodic, varied and warm in their sound (particularly when compared to contemporaries ELP). I find them to be more fluid, subtle, intricate and carrying more musicality. Many prog fans would no doubt disagree but it is just how this outsider hears it.














The Snow Goose (1975)


I also took the time to check out this release, from 1975, which was one of those dreaded concept" albums. Now, I love literature and I love music, but I find the two don't always mix too well. This album was a collection of bits of music inspired by Paul Gallico's World War II (Dunkirk)-themed novella, The Snow Goose. In true prog rock style, Camel decided they wanted to write some music based on a book and duly chose Gallico's. As it happened, though, it is a very nice piece of work containing lots of relaxing instrumental fare, along with some nicely upbeat but extremely melodic tracks - Rhayader and Rhayader Goes To Town are two exceptionally attractive ones, as indeed is The Snow Goose


The longer tracks are interspersed with shorter ambient pieces and there is a refreshing lack of archetypal prog rock indulgence. It is simply really good music, all the way through, albeit with proggy tinges.



As I said, the album is full of quality instrumental offerings that relate loosely to the book - soaring parts representing the previously injured goose returning successfully to flight, a brief jaunty bit maybe conjuring images of a goose waddling along etc. Either way, the music is really good, played immaculately and reproduced in top quality sound. I found myself enjoying this immensely.




Saturday, 23 January 2021

Grace Jones




Portfolio (1977)


Send In the Clowns/What I Did For Love/Tomorrow/La Vie en Rose/ Sorry/That's The Trouble/I Need A Man


This was Grace Jones's 1977 debut and, contrary to her big persona, it went under the radar, retaining cult status among disco-pop aficionados. It was produced by Tom Moulton and featured Philadelphia soul musicians. It is a very 1977 album, when the strains of disco ruled many of the airwaves, but it has an underlying classiness in its extended grooves that put it above much frothier contemporary disco material. It is a bit of an acquired taste, however. 


Send In The Clowns is a funky, brassy, big-production of the plaintive Judy Collins ballad with typically 1977 disco horn breaks throughout. It is quite an achievement to turn such an un-disco song into a piece of slow, dignified disco groove. It has an understated grandiosity to it. The track neatly segues into the lush strains of What I Did For Love. This track has a bit of a showy gloss to it, probably too much for me, but it has some nice gentle disco guitar parts underpinning it and there is a nice break at around 2:48. Once more, it is so very 1977. There is a slick professionalism to it and the musicianship is excellent but Jones's vocal has not yet morphed into the menacing semi-spoken delivery of the early eighties - here is its haughtily higher in key and far more enthusiastic. None of that detached ennui


A drumbeat takes us into the enjoyably upbeat Tomorrow, but again it is a little bit "show tune" for my stuffy old heterosexual tastes. Jones always had a large gay following and you can hear why in the somewhat stereotyped Broadway musical vibes of this song and its slightly over-the-top delivery. I love the drum and horns interplay half way through, however. Researching the song I have found that it is from the musical, "Annie", (as my wife has just informed me). There was no way I was going to know that, not being a fan of musicals. Of course, all three of these tracks are from musicals - sorry for my ignorance.


Anyway, on to the old side two, and more to my taste is the delicious sound of the old Edith Piaf song La Vie En Rose, a song that I had always known, being Jones's first relatively successful release. It features her first venture into French singing and is full of Parisian café atmosphere, treating us to some lovely acoustic guitar together with a rhythmic bass.


Sorry is a shorter, breezier number that is pleasant enough in a cool, summery way. That's The Trouble grooves on in a rousing disco style that is once more highly representative of its era and the final track is another one that I have known since back then in I Need A Man. The song reminds me of ABBA, lyrically, for some reason.


I prefer Jones's early eighties edgier, funkier, more reggae-influenced albums but I can understand the appeal of this outing into quality, subtle disco. It definitely has something.



Fame (1978)




Do Or Die/Pride/Fame/Autumn Leaves/All On A Summer's Night/Am I Ever Gonna Fall In Love In New York City/Below The Belt


This was Grace Jones's second album, and her second of disco material. Again produced by Tom Moulton, the old "side one" plays as one continuous suite of disco joy. Disco wasn't all about short, catchy three minute singles - the extended groove was just as important. 


I was familiar with the lively and eminently enjoyable disco fun of Do Or Die, a track that is healthily long featuring infectious bongo-orchestration typically disco passages. Its great and Jones's hammy voice is as gloriously enthusiastic as I have ever heard her.


Pride continues in the same vein - melodic but haughtily strident vocals, classic disco "diddle-diddle" guitars, sweeping strings and mid-song string-percussion breaks. If you love bass guitar, as I do, big time, you will be in bass nirvana when you hear the rubbery mid-song solo. 


The groovy percussion leads us into the rousing Fame, the last of this supreme disco trilogy. There is a fair case for this side being the best of Jones's disco work. 


Grace loved her classic French torch songs, and she covers one here (singing in French) in Autumn Leaves as the tempo drops and we are initially transported to the escaliers of fifties Montmartre before some delicious Sexual Healing-style keyboard backing and a beautiful, gently strummed acoustic guitar come in. The song then becomes a beautiful piece of laid-back romantic music. Nice.


We are back on the floor with the poppy, Barry Manilow-esque disco groove of All On A Summer's Night. Once again, the mid-song percussion-bass-guitar merging is just wonderful, especially for people like me who absolutely love those sort of instrumental breaks. The Streisand-ish Am I Ever Gonna Fall In Love In New York City presumably comes from a stage show, actually, but it still has a great, irresistible disco vibe to it. It reminds me of Donna Summer's On The Radio. Oh lordy - just listen to that bass bit near the end too. Yes I love my punk, my roots reggae and my blues rock but I have no shame in admitting that I love this too. 


This fine, thoroughly enjoyable disco album ends with the uplifting positive message workout of Below The Belt


I prefer this album to its predecessor as it is less Broadway show-ish, less blatantly camp and more pure disco. It is one of the great disco albums (of which there were few - it was largely a singles genre).





Muse (1979)




Sinning/Suffer/Repentance (Forgive Me)/Saved/Atlantic City Gambler/I'll Find My Way To You/Don't Mess With The Messer/On Your Knees


The following year saw the final release in this excellent disco trilogy. The idiotic US-based "disco sucks" movement was taking off by now and this album sort of went under the radar as Jones tinkered with her sound for the next album, going all menacing and dabbling in reggae rhythms. She was probably right as you can only release so many disco albums, I guess.


Kicking us off is the slightly heavier groove of Sinning, featuring a deeper beat and bass along with those funny synth-drum sounds that suddenly became so popular in disco music at the time. Soon every disco tune would have one. As on the previous two albums, the first side of the album has the songs playing on a continual flow, and here we merge seamlessly into Suffer. The song features shared vocals with Icelandic keyboardist Thor Baldursson. 


Repentance (Forgive Me) is a dense number that sort of predates Jones' subsequent style of music. Her vocal has become more menacing and far less incorrigibly camp. She sounds as if she means business now as opposed to simply having fun. The opening suite  contained four songs this time and it ends with the upbeat, frantic disco-gospel-pop of Saved. For me, these tracks slightly lack the infectious, rhythmic disco groove of the previous one. The mid-song bongo breaks were gone as were the bass solos, to its detriment. This track does have a nice guitar-drum-organ interplay near the end, however.


Atlantic City Gambler sees the first hints of the reggae beat and the don't mess with me vocal style as disco merges with something slightly different on a mysterious, slow burner of a track. I'll Find My Way has the new-found vocal style merging with some slow disco backing. The changes were still coming, though.  


I previously knew Don't Mess With The Messer as a blues-soul song by Koko Taylor (I think it was originally a Willie Dixon song) and here Jones, unsurprisingly turns it into a mid-pace disco groover that harks back to the first album. We finally get a percussive instrumental break. The disco is back on On Your Knees. While this album is perfectly acceptable, it was no doubt clear to all concerned that a change was necessary. That said, there will no criticism from me for these three superb disco albums.




Warm Leatherette/Private Life/A Rolling Stone/Love Is The Drug/The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game/Bullshit/Breakdown/Pars


While not a post punk album, musically, this 1980 offering from Grace Jones has all the dark attitude of that genre but also the cool sophisto-pop vibe of the early/mid eighties. It is great wine bar fare - after dark, urban, rhythmically infectious and vaguely other-worldly Bowie-esque in places. It taps into the same groove that Talking Heads and Tom Tom Club would explore and it is a pretty much perfect piece of accessible but intriguing classy disco-ish pop/funk with reggae influences (supplied here by Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare). The earlier emphasis on disco is notably enhanced here to include many more influences and it is a truly great album, possibly Jones's best, and I much prefer it to the more popular Slave To The Rhythm. It was here that Jones's persona became importantly aligned with the music, delivering both image and musical content with a simultaneous beauty.


Warm Leatherette is a Grace Jones classic - moody and magnificent both vocally and musically. Chunky riffs, pounding drums and an insistent rhythm captivate the listener and Grace supplies her usual menacing, unnerving vocals. What exactly was a "warm leatherette" , by the way? I always imagined it to be something in an exclusive but dodgy s & m club, something one would lay on while Grace whipped you. Anyway, enough of that....


Private Life was a track I first came across on the first Pretenders album. While it suited writer Chrissie Hynde's laconic voice perfectly it was absolutely tailor-made for Jones. Her detached, bored but bitter vocal floats over a totally intoxicating late night beat. Its effect is disturbingly magical.


A Rolling Stone is an upbeat serving of disco/rock merge while the cover of Roxy Music's Love Is The Drug is inspired, upping the tempo a bit to turn it into a brooding, riffy, new wave-inspired cool dance number. I almost feel the ambience it delivers is exactly what Bryan Ferry was trying to achieve when he wrote it. Great stuff.


Smokey Robinson's The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game is a triumph, a magnificent cover overflowing with the atmosphere that the whole album carries. Once more, Jones uses her powerful persona to take the song to new levels. Not for the first time, the influence this would have on Talking Heads' Speaking In Tongues album is clear. Check out the mid-song guitar solo as rock styles surface amongst the mellifluous rhythms, not for the first time.


Bullshit is a no-nonsense, muscular number that lives up to its uncompromising title. Jones is tired of the same old shit and assholes and she lets us know on the album's riffiest, rockiest cut. It has a great sound to it, very guitar-driven.


Another track that suited Jones down to the ground was Tom Petty's Breakdown. Jones makes already atmospheric and brooding tracks even more so. All the covers she did were superb. My goodness, I love that bass line at the end too. 


This excellent album ends with the convincing Euro-reggae sound of Pars (French for "leave"). Jones's vocals were always suited to singing in French, and she does so here to great effect. It has a similar feel to I've Seen That Face Before (Libertango) from the next album. Honestly, there is not a duff track on this album. Is it her best one? Yes.


** The extended versions also available are excellent too, particularly A Rolling Stone and Love Is The Drug. A long time favourite of mine has been her superb cover of Joy Division's She's Lost Control.





Nightclubbing (1981)


Walking In The Rain/Pull Up To The Bumper/Use Me/Nightclubbing/Art Groupie/I've Seen That Face Before/Feel Up/Demolition Man/I've Done It Again                

Ditching her previously somewhat camp disco diva style, model turned serious music artist Grace Jones came up with this ostensibly reggae album. However, there was nothing roots about it, despite featuring the rhythm section of Sly and Robbie. The album was a melange of catchy reggae rhythms, dub stylings, dance grooves, disco, funk, synth pop and even a bit of tango. In so many ways it was a ground-breaking piece of work, both musically and culturally. Jones’ androgynous appearance was as shocking in 1981 as Boy George or any of the gender-bending “new romantics”. There really wasn’t, or subsequently hasn’t, been anything quite like this record. Jones’ vocal style, also, was quite unique - speaking at times as opposed to singing, in a dull, monotone. The laid-back reggae rhythms suited such a delivery perfectly. Again, unique.

Walking In The Rain exemplifies this effortless, almost contemptuous delivery - fashion and style meet post punk style. The line “feeling like a woman, looking like a man” fits the whole image perfectly. 

Pull Up To The Bumper is urgent, sensual, blatantly sexual in many ways, with a shuffling, insistent beat. 

The cover of Bill Withers’ Use Me is vastly different to the sparse, funky original. At times, one struggles to recognise it. For a start, the lyrics are completely different, although the writing credits are given to Withers.

Nightclubbing was co-written by David Bowie and Iggy Pop and you can tell. Their contribution perfectly suits the whole ambience of this album. The fashionable, nightclubbing thing. This one track maybe sums it all up. It is menacing, stark and industrial, While “new romanticism” was burgeoning all around by now, this was something different. It was tougher, cynical, even brutal in its no-nonsense application. You felt Jones was already a little bored by it all. Yes she was making a statement, but she had no real need or desire to do so.

My own personal favourite is the Parisian tango groove of I've Seen That Face Before - a marvellously sensual and evocative slice of cinematic disco funk with that hypnotic tango hook. It was used to great effect in the Paris nightclub scene in the Harrison Ford movie, Frantic.


Sting of The Police contributed the potent Demolition Man six months before his group recorded it themselves. It seemed that everyone wanted to get in on this new thing. What was a pity was that it never really got this good again for Grace Jones, musically. There were certainly still some good albums to come, but none quite as good as this.

Living My Life (1982)


My Jamaican Guy/Nipple To The Bottle/The Apple Stretching/Everybody Hold Still/Cry Now - Laugh Later/Inspiration/Unlimited Capacity For Love


After an attention-grabbing album in 1981 in Nightclubbing, Grace Jones released her final album before a three year acting sabbatical with this 1982 offering. It was critically seen as slightly disappointing, but I won’t really go along with that. In the midst of all that dour post punk, new romantic foppery and tinny synth pop it was a nice piece of bassy but cool and detached disco funk. The pace was largely slow but it was sexy, seductive and extremely atmospheric. It stands as one of the better albums of 1982, for me. 


The legendary reggae rhythm duo of Sly and Robbie are once more on duty here and again you can tell. The music is outstanding. The cover was an iconic Grace Jones image too.


My Jamaican Guy is a typically staccato, jerky serving of rhythm topped off with an also by now familiar detached and slightly menacing-sounding vocal from Jones. She did this sort of thing so well.


Even better is the mesmerising and intoxicatingly rhythmic Nipple To The Bottle, which drips with female power and also has some great keyboard licks and rubbery bass lines. I love this - it cooks to a healthy bubbling point.



Just as good is the über cool groove of The Apple Stretching, which is a kind of love song to the city of New York. Once again, the instrumentation on this is superb. Grab a load of those keyboards and drums. Jones’s semi-spoken vocal and descriptions of urban life are also captivating, as is the sleepily melodious chorus. 


The original “side two” is composed of four slightly shorter tracks, beginning with the more upbeat, poppier vibe of Everybody Hold Still, which has a big Talking Heads-style sound to it. 


Cry Now - Laugh Later also reminds me of the Heads in its chugging funky beat. I have to repeat myself when I praise its boiling hot temperature. The same warm but vaguely distant late night feeling can be found on Inspiration, which has a guitar sound that brings to mind Dire Straits’ more laid-back material. Listen to those keyboard swirls and little guitar bits - an aural treat.


Lovers of basslines will love the warm offering on the final track, Unlimited Capacity For Love, which is another laconically-delivered groove. This was surely an influence on Talking Heads’ Speaking In Tongues from the following year. Anyway, it’s time to leave the wine bar, jump in a taxi and glide through the wet, dark city streets with this playing.



Slave To The Rhythm (1985)


Jones The Rhythm/The Fashion Show/The Frog And The Princess/Operattack/Slave To The Rhythm/The Crossing (Ooh The Action)/Don't Cry - It's Only The Rhythm/Ladies And Gentlemen - Miss Grace Jones


This is a most odd album from Grace Jones, although it is one of her most popular and commercially successful. All the songs are interspersed with spoken clips of interviews given by Jones, which totally breaks the cohesion of the whole thing, despite being no doubt intended to link all the tracks. For me, it does anything but that and acts as a complete irritant. The interviews are fawning and pointless, with Jones at the height of her pretentious "difficult" phase, spouting nonsense and sounding as she had taken a nose full of drugs.


The music is ok, but, in my view, is nowhere near up to the standard of either Nightclubbing or the most underrated Living My Life. While there are definitely some good moments the overall feel is of an album which is a long way up itself. The album displays the artist's aggressive vanity to its full 1985 extent. It suits the era so much. Everyone was urged to love themselves and show themselves off and Jones devotes the whole album to talking about herself or having other people talk about her. It is like an aural catwalk. 


Jones The Rhythm is a frantic opener, with hints of David Bowie's Scary Monsters in its "hoo-hah" backing vocals. It also has some sweeping, madcap string arrangements. The semi-instrumental The Fashion Show has a nice deep bass line and a seductive slow groove to it. It is one of the album's best tracks. It has that typically cool, detached vibe to it that I so love about Jones's often mysterious and beguiling music. I like the "keep it up, keep it up" backing vocals (which appear on other occasions throughout the album) and also the fuzzy guitar part mid-song. 


The Frog And The Princess has a nice bassy backing groove but is slightly blighted by a spoken vocal in praise of Jones and her singing at a gay club, looking like a man and singing to a bunch of men. Oh look, it is ok and has a certain atmosphere but it is certainly not essential listening. The backing and the vocal reminds me of Talking Heads' Seen And Not Seen. Despite researching it, I cannot find out who does the vocals. 


The less said about the waste of time that is Operattack the better. It is a cacophonous serving of drivel. Thankfully it lasts less than three minutes, although that is too many. The next track causes some confusion, because although it is titled Slave To The Rhythm, it is not the track that everyone knows by that title (that comes later under another title, oddly). Anyway, this track is chunky and staccato and reminds me a bit of Bad from Big Audio Dynamite's 1985 debut album.


The Crossing (Ooh The Action) begins with Grace telling us that she spent her youth "floating in a cloud" before we get a rather infectious piece of world music-esque ambient rhythm that backs a repeated spoken vocal "Jones - Miss Grace Jones". We get it - her name is Grace Jones. Although I like the music, I have to say it gets nowhere.


Don't Cry - It's Only The Rhythm is a comparatively shorter piece of drum and keyboards instrumental before we get the song that most people know as Slave To The Rhythm, only it is titled Ladies And Gentlemen - Miss Grace Jones. Whatever, it still stands as one of her most iconic and catchy numbers. The percussion is excellent and Jones's vocal is delightfully sonorous and menacingly sexy. I liked it back then and I still do.


As I said, this was an indulgent, often incoherent album redeemed by some occasional bits of quality. Contrary to the opinions of many, this was not the best of Grace Jones.