Now that it’s uncommon for artists to release an album a year, we simply don’t get to hear dispatches from the front as often. At least the upside is that veteran performers (the smarter ones, anyway) now put out new albums only when they’ve absolutely got something worth saying. And in the 21st century, Joe Jackson is one of those people.
He’s had his own gripes with the machinery over the years, as documented in his memoir A Cure For Gravity. Since his first album he’s gone through four labels and dabbled in a variety of genres throughout his career, some more successful than others. On Rain, easily his best album since the ‘80s, the only gimmick is keeping it simple: piano (lots of it), bass, drums and his own voice on ten strong songs.
Backed by the rhythm section of the original Joe Jackson Band, each track is straightforward with a multitude of hooks, starting with “Invisible Man”, something of a statement of purpose. Many of the other tracks have a timelessness to them, as if they could have been written at any other part of his career, following in order with “Too Tough”, “Citizen Sane” and the aching “Wasted Time”, another heartbroken classic with zero schmaltz. A nice tonic is “The Uptown Train”, which channels Ramsey Lewis’s “The In Crowd” (again) without directly plagiarizing.
“King Pleasure Time” is another jazz reference, but in name only; a terrific tempo drives this acerbic portrait. Any pomposity in the deceptively self-obsessed “Solo (So Low)”, a pseudo-classical piece with vocal, gets punctured by a few well-placed four-letter words. “Rush Across The Road” is near-perfect pop, complete with a bass solo replicating the chorus and even a fake ending. Snide commentary on the music business has to wait all the way until “Good Bad Boy”, an attitude going on for nearly six decades now. Finally, “Place In The Rain” recalls “Love At First Light” from Volume 4, and provides an odd appreciation for the album title, complete with ambient sound over the last minute.
Critics at the time compared the album to the original Night And Day, but a better precedent would be Summer In The City, recorded with a similar format. The occasional layered vocals on Rain show that it’s wasn’t captured completely live in the studio, but it may as well have been. If “intimate” isn’t the best word to describe this performance, let’s just say it’s direct, and was well worth the nearly five-year wait.
Joe Jackson Rain (2008)—4