Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Joe Jackson 10: Laughter & Lust

For the first time in his ten-year career, Joe was on a new label. One would have thought they’d’ve put their all into touting their new signee, especially when he presented them with an album full of the type of catchy pop A&M hoped he’d return to. Laughter & Lust gathered several of his reliable supporting players for a collection of just plain songs with no blatant concept, for once—even despite the title.

“Obvious Song” rises from cacophony for a catchy rant about the state of the world. “Goin’ Downtown”, despite being a theme he’s come close to too many times, is unfortunately married to a horn part that suggest the theme to your local evening news. “Stranger Than Fiction” channels early-‘80s Graham Parker, with prominent cowbell and conga to drive its rhymes. His cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Oh Well” relies too much on synthesizers and percussion, but at least he paid tribute with the right touch of slap echo on his vocal. “Jamie G.” would have fit just fine on his first album, and manages to charm its way through the heavy Latin arrangement. In a nod to the sequencing of Blaze Of Glory, a quick drum break slows down to welcome in the wonderfully nasal Farfisa organ that frames the equally snotty “Hit Single”. While not exactly a slice of “pure pop heaven”, “It’s All Too Much” revives his distaste of saturation in the media.

“When You’re Not Around” and “The Other Me” provide adult ruminations on romance that could be hit singles for anyone who wanted to cover them. The moody “Trying To Cry” manages to stay interesting over six minutes of the same repeated unresolved chord, only modulating for a quasi-operatic section following the familiar subject matter (men forced into stereotypical masculine roles). The narrator of “My House” seems a little on the edge, while the guy blaming “The Old Songs” for his problems gets to do that over another homage of an arrangement. The best is saved for last, however. Despite its resemblance to a certain Barry Manilow song based on a Chopin prelude, its lush yet quiet arrangement carries like a boat on the ocean, fading away to the sound of waves.

Enough people must have heard that Laughter & Lust was just okay. It’s not even pointedly bad; it simply isn’t very exciting. The dated sound of the production doesn’t help. Maybe his depiction as prisoner with ball-and-chain was supposed to be symbolic of the role he felt forced to play. But the songs are catchy without being too crafted—he still plays a few of them while out on tour—so it gets a rating just a hair on the positive side.

Joe Jackson Laughter & Lust (1991)—3

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