Album: Fast Forward
Artist: Joe Jackson
About : 16 tracks; 1 hour 12 minutes
Pick: Deliberate Obfuscation
Joe Jackson came into my life when I was a college freshman. His Look Sharp debut album was sung aloud to over many beers in our college pub. Pretty women out walking with gorillas down my street ... No one could sell a snarly pop, new wave song like Joe Jackson. You heard his sarcasm clearly and he was brilliant. Sixty-one year old Joe Jackson, on his new album, Fast Forward, has lost some of the snarl, but he still throws out some brilliant pop on this album. This peripatetic album of sixteen songs was recorded in studios in New York City, Amsterdam, Berlin, and New Orleans. In each location he builds a band to accompany his distinctive vocals and piano playing on four tracks.
The New York series opens the album with the title track Fast Forward. This is six minutes of great stuff. It abounds with confusion about what the heck is going on in the world, but it has almost a smiling acceptance of bewilderment. It is the first indication on this album that the snarl of older days has softened, but it is not gone. If this is the best of times or if it’s the worst / There’s some difference of opinion out there / Everyone is a genius / But no one has any friends / Or is it the other way around?
Every song on this album has some snippet of lyric that I want to include in this review. He is just so smart, plus clever!
The second set of the album was recorded in Amsterdam. Aside from the track “Far Away” that opens with a young boy’s solo, this portion of the album may be my favorite. A Little Smile is full of lovely orchestral strings and pulls out pure sweetness in its message. This section also indicates that he has had some lady learning. This comes through in songs like So You Say – So you say, and I agree, you’re a prize, but not for me. And finally, Joe Jackson’s version of optimism is defined via the track Poor Thing – Just think of the millions and millions of horrible things that can happen, that happen each day / but on we go / there must be a few million chances that just a few things could still turn out OK. That is weirdly hopeful, right?
Next up is Berlin, which to me, sounds most like early JJ. There are tracks that sound garage bandy and some that are more bluesy. Anger comes through on the incredible If I Could See Your Face about cultural differences. This section also has Jackson’s rendition of a German cabaret song, Goodbye Jonny that fits so well into this section and this album. This all just makes you realize what a smart curator of music he is.
On his blog, Dan pays a lot of attention to what JJ is doing musically that he does not understand. There is something to say about that since Jackson certainly has the gift of being a trained musician who clearly thinks through his sounds. I think that as he spends more time with this album, the album as a whole and not the techniques will be something that he can enjoy more.
The final section was recorded in New Orleans. Jackson says that he was thinking of NOLA when he wrote Neon Rain, the section’s opener. This song has some classic New Orleans shout backs with some rain and thunder thrown in. The track Keep On Dreaming, I think, includes the best example of New Orleans instrumentation. I hope that it also reflects Joe Jackson’s promise to his fans: Keep on singing til I get it right; Keep on swinging till I get it right / Keep on thinking til I get it right/ Keep on drinking till I get it right / Keep on dreaming til I get it right / Even if I never get it right. I actually see him achieving all of those things in this album and if it isn’t quite right in Joe Jackson’s mind, I am perfectly fine with that. That just means that there will be more to come.
Next Up: Babyface: Return of the Tender Lover