Monday, June 17, 2013

Joe Jackson 12: Heaven & Hell

Another three years passed before Joe resurfaced, and he wasn’t any closer to compromising his musical path for anybody. Now he was on Sony Classical, and after the trend of “symphonic” reinterpretations of classic rock staples had somewhat plateaued, he was still determined to meld classical music with rock elements. This would be no mere orchestration, however; being Joe Jackson, his big project would be an exploration of the seven deadly sins.
Thus, Heaven & Hell was cast with a variety of singers to support his work. Onetime labelmate Suzanne Vega appears as the voice of the “fallen angel” seducing Joe’s “soul in torment” on “Angel”, while acclaimed soprano Dawn Upshaw provides the Latin counterpoint. Upshaw appears again on the next track, “Tuzla”, to trade lines with Joe and his occasional singing partner Joe Askew. Later on, Jane Siberry decorates “The Bridge”, with a nice jazzy string arrangement.
There are some fine instrumental moments, such as in the “Prelude” and the “Passacaglia” portion of “A Bud And A Slice” (until the bassoon is taken over by the guy from Crash Test Dummies, well past his expiration date). But because the subject matter is “dark” by nature, that almost dictates that the music be ugly. This culminates in “Right”, illustrating the “anger” portion of the program, wherein our hero shouts a litany of four-letter words and phrase over fists pounding on the piano, while three drummers (one in each speaker, plus another playing plastic buckets) pound away.
Most of the tracks on Heaven & Hell are on the lengthy side, and demand a lot of attention. One wishes he had either done a completely instrumental album, letting the music speak for itself, or maybe toned down the gravitas of the vocal portions and sung them himself. Catchy melodies used to come so easy for him, so it’s a shame that he overworks his ideas to the point of dullness. It didn’t work on Night Music, and it doesn’t work here.

Joe Jackson & Friends Heaven & Hell (1997)—2

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