Friday, August 5, 2011

Joe Jackson 9: Blaze Of Glory

Joe’s fascination with the LP as an entity continued on his next real album, a look back at his generation’s progress. Although he insisted it wasn’t a concept album (“it’s not the f—king Wall, for f—k’s sake,” he would tell impatient audiences), Blaze Of Glory is a song cycle, programmed in such a way that each track, while different than the next, has a built-in segue that sets up the sound of its successor. The use of lead vocalists other than himself also makes it more of a Big Production than the average rock album.
As had become his approach, the album ranges from rock to lush pop, sometimes within the same track. “Tomorrow’s World” fades in with an expression of wonder at what technology can bring, with pointed references to what didn’t come to fruition. “Me And You (Against The World)” gives a glimpse at the first brush with romance, followed by the determination of success in the big city espoused in “Down To London”, which features one of the better fake harmonicas as played on a synthesizer. The dreams, however, are already tarnished with the regret in “Sentimental Thing” (not sung by Joe, and its melody already used on the Tucker soundtrack). We’re not sure where the instrumental “Acropolis Now” fits into the story, except that one of its themes sounds borrowed from the title track of another concept album. “Blaze Of Glory” has a great backing track, but the words are basically a rewrite of Bad Company’s “Shooting Star”, right down to the metaphor and protagonist’s name. A not-so-subtle nod to “On Broadway” closes out the side.
While he may not have intended to allude to so many songs known in the common vernacular, there’s no escaping the similarity of “Rant And Rave” to “Footloose”, despite its 6/4 meter and detours into sleazy jazz. The relentless drums segue nicely into the intro of “Nineteen Forever”, one of his greatest and most unjustifiably ignored singles. It’s a wonderful ‘60s pop pastiche, with just the right amount of horns, exuberant vocals and even a Coral electric sitar. The determination to stay eternally young is exemplified in the extended fake live ending, complete with shouts of “one more time”. Instead, a lone trumpet leads into “The Best I Can Do”, another trademark vague love song with a vocal that still reminds us of Steve Martin. “Evil Empire” is a not-so-subtle slap at American policy at a time when Reagan was still seemingly universally beloved, and for those not impressed with the album thus far, “Discipline” is sure to seal its fate. Based on an intentionally annoying drum and bass loop, it weaves in horns, spoken excerpts and vintage keyboards into a maddening display of automation, broken only by a smooth jazz interlude. Those listening on CD would be rewarded by skipping ahead to the closing “Human Touch”, another aching piano ballad with a heartbreaking violin and a vocal arrangement reminiscent of the Righteous Brothers.
Blaze Of Glory is not immediately accessible, taking a few listens to catch hold. Some of it could easily be shaved in favor of the songs as opposed to holding up the story. Unfortunately for him, it was not a huge success outside his fan base, and the label that had supported him for so long dropped him in the next music industry consolidation. (In a cut in the running for the unkindest, Jon Bon Jovi put out an album the following year with the same title and sold more than a few more copies.)

Joe Jackson Blaze Of Glory (1989)—3

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