Monday, March 4, 2013

Joe Jackson 11: Night Music

Having watched his most recent blatant attempt at accessible pop go ignored by most consumers, Joe Jackson went back to his little room and wrote for himself, seemingly. The results, after a three-year silence, emerged as Night Music, a challenging album that’s nearly impossible to ingest when the sun is visible.
It is not, as All Music Guide writes it off, “a song cycle about writer’s block”; the lyrics do address the self-doubt and questioning that can occur when one is trying to fall asleep. Besides not being very uplifting, such thoughts can too easily be equated with a wish for death and soon.
Four instrumental “Nocturnes” are spread throughout, further blurring the categorization of the album as pop, classical or neither. The second begins promisingly, but the most striking is the third, with its lovely oboe melody until it’s interrupted by some radio static, likely to suggest a bad dream. (His best work with the title was a gorgeous piano solo on the otherwise classical Will Power, another album nobody bought or seemed to enjoy.)
Four minutes in, the first “song” appears, proclaiming: “The older I get, the more stupid I feel,” and that’s the high point of cleverness. Despite a grand trumpet intro, “Ever After” tiptoes under a high soprano descant until drums kick in. “The Man Who Wrote Danny Boy” has a lovely Celtic lilt, telling a fable about a Faustian deal for immortality. While the narrator doesn’t sell his soul, he does succumb to the temptation of employing a guest vocalist—in this case, Clannad singer and Enya sibling Máire Brennan, used more briefly than Renée Fleming two tracks later. “Only The Future” brings a welcome change of tempo, a distinct melody over a barely changing root note. But the final “Nocturne” puts the brakes on, before “Sea Of Secrets” finally sends him off to slumberland, apparently.
Slow and pretty is one thing; it also helps to be memorable. Night Music is a nearly as “solo” as he ever got, as he’s credited with playing all but a handful of non-percussion or keyboard instruments. While his prowess is impressive, unfortunately some of the synthesized sounds were dated even for 1994; still, it must have been cheaper than hiring an orchestra. Not a lot happens, despite the album’s length.

Joe Jackson Night Music (1994)—2

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