Friday, January 24, 2014

Joe Jackson 15: Night And Day II

After a decade of relative commercial failure, it was just as uncomfortable to watch Joe Jackson begin the millennium with an album that pointedly referenced his last real hit. It’s always a ballsy move to revisit old glories, even more so when you give it a title like Night And Day II. On his own website he questions whether the title was a good idea, so maybe it’s best to think of it on its own, rather than a sequel—much like Harvest Moon only suggested a connection to Harvest.
In fact, anyone who has affection for the first Night And Day would do well not to look for a connection, because while the first album had its moments of brightness, most of the observations in Night And Day II are pretty dismal. One wonders why he insists on living in a city as ugly as the one he describes for 47 minutes—and this was a full year before 9/11.
With the exception of a string quartet, occasional bass, some percussion and some guest vocalists—which by now is a major red flag on any Joe Jackson album—this is a one-man operation. That means he also programmed all the drums himself. Where the earlier album utilized segues, here all the tracks are connected by the same high-hat pattern, no matter the tempo of the song. It starts in the “Prelude” and continues through “Hell Of A Town”, which references a catchphrase from Midnight Cowboy, begins to quote “Chinatown” and even talks about “steppin’ out” (not for the only time). “Stranger Than You” is the closest thing to a single, being the most upbeat track with the catchiest chorus. Any optimism suggested is smothered by the foreboding “Why”, with its fractured English sung by Iranian singer Sussan Deyhim. “Glamour And Pain” features vocals by the mysterious Dale De Vere, who looks strikingly familiar. (Based on the provided photo in the booklet, she would appear to be the artiste’s alter ego.) This lament of a “Superwhore” goes on a little long, broken up by occasional references to “Steppin’ Out”.
With a recurrent electric piano that resembles a busy signal, “Dear Mom” chases somebody’s sister around the city to eventual success but not much hope. Only three years after her appearance on a Metallica album, everybody’s favorite cracked chanteuse Marianne Faithfull takes her turn on “Love Got Lost”, which is one of the better tracks on the album, particularly in the chorus. “Just Because” begins with an extremely tense appearance by the string quartet, demonstrating the paranoid message of the already clich├ęd lyrical hook. The high-hat lets some Latin percussion come in for “Happyland”. A very pretty, very sad song about a notorious nightclub fire that killed 87 people in the Bronx ten years earlier, the line about “the hottest club in town” is just plain bad taste. The “Steppin’ Out” motif returns again throughout “Stay”, while slow chords and words bring him to settle on doing just that.
In the end, Night And Day II is another album made for a subdued setting, right along with most of his recent work. However, much like someone who’s been prescribed medication to temper a bipolar disorder, the mood never swings wide enough to make you want to spend any more time around the guy.

Joe Jackson Night And Day II (2000)—

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