Right away, Dangerous Dave Houghton rolls in the drums and Graham Maby percolates a bass line, Joe lets out a howl and Gary Sanford proves that he hasn’t changed his amp settings in 23 years. But then Joe throws on a piano part right out of Night And Day, and “Take It Like A Man” manages to meld a lot of styles together. The equally clever “Still Alive” nicely apes the XTC version of the Beatles, with a bridge reminiscent of Steely Dan’s “Barrytown”. “Awkward Age” absolutely crackles, just like they used to. And just like they used to, they get mellow, or at least mellower, on “Chrome”, with its intricately plucked guitar and a bass solo where the guitar or piano solo would be. The mood stays that way for “Love At First Light”, a slightly melancholy portrait and a rather adult perspective on a casual encounter. As a possible reaction, “Fairy Dust” crashes in with a 5/4 tempo, heavy wah-wah guitar and jazz attack, and presents another argument about sexual roles.
“Little Bit Stupid” has a great trashy sound to go with the title, before moving back to a sensitive approach on “Blue Flame”, about as close as the album gets to a seduction. Then, as if to wipe that away, there’s “Dirty Martini”, complete with the band chanting backups and a cheesy Farfisa-guitar duet, stopping for a New Orleans-flavored piano break. “Thugz ‘R’ Us” works where it shouldn’t, a ska-fueled spoof of angry youth, sounding mostly like a Madness track of, say, 23 years earlier. And finally, “Bright Grey” comes to an edgy, angry finish, just this side of chaotic.
Volume 4 is no more a “comeback” than any other artist’s so-called “return to form”, but what makes it successful is its simplicity. Listeners knew by now that Joe Jackson was an exceedingly talented musician, and even a skilled composer, though sometimes songs require a more straightforward approach, and that’s what we have here.
Those whose appetites were whet by the six-EP included in early pressings of the album (the Japanese, incidentally, got an excellent cover of Todd Rundgren’s “Couldn’t I Just Tell You”) would have been very pleased to scoop up Afterlife, captured on the reunited band’s tour, mixing old and new, including songs that only Graham Maby may have played before.
Joe Jackson Band Volume 4 (2003)—3