Gary Steel is slowly compiling all his album reviews in one place. This is a work in progress, or what we call a “live document”. Today is the letter ‘J’.
Michael Jackson – Off The Wall (Epic)
Michael Jackson seriously threatens to steal Stevie Wonder’s crown in the 1980s with Off The Wall. 8/10
Jah Wobble’s Betrayal is the first solo album by Public Image Ltd’s bass player since he departed from the band, and it’s a commendable effort. Less spooky or threatening than PIL, Betrayal is actually quite accessible and entertaining in the normal sense. An addictive listen, the mix is mostly airy synthesisers and Wobble’s own bass (though the local pressing ensures the need to turn the bass knob up considerably) and various other instruments used with dub consistency.
The best tracks are ‘Blueberry Hill’, which he matches with a bass progression from PIL’s Metal Box; ‘TV’, a sort of video nightmare (“Turn off the TV but the image won’t go-oh!”); and ‘Dan McArthur’, a slightly sad instrumental with bass explosions which hit you in the chest. 8/10
The more things change, the more they stay the same. So they say, and though a cliche, this certainly holds true for the majority of musical history.
Look at The Jam, from punk/mod 1977 to punk/psychedelia 1980. Always 13 years late, but in this case that’s no bad thing. Their first two albums, In The City and This Is The Modern World, were minor punk/mod classics. Their third, All Mod Cons, saw a radical change and was acclaimed by the rock press. They had graduated from 1965 to 1967.
Setting Sons continues along the same path as its illustrious predecessor, except for one distinct change: it’s a concept album. No screams of mirth and derision please. The songs all succeed both in and out of context, and the ‘concept’ is not restrictive. But it does bring a sense of purpose and unity to this project.
The Jam’s music retains a portion of its punk bite and energy, but goes also for the whimsical, semi-psychedelic minor chord ditties of The Beatles and The Move. The lyrics display a social and moral conscience similar, but more outright and direct, than that of The Who of The Kinks.
Setting Sons covers related, yet diverse topics of considerable importance in 1980. Topics like war, corruption, government, living, unhappiness, commerce. ‘Burning Sky’ is a letter by someone who has been sucked in and corrupted by Big Business, and he’s making his excuses: “The values that we had once upon a time/Seem stupid now, because the rent must be paid/And some bonds severed and others made.”
Paul Weller, the brain behind The Jam, in ‘Little Boy Soldiers’, sees the futility of war and deceit of government: “Our only contact was a form for the election/These days I find you don’t listen/These days I find we’re out of touch/So why the attention now?/You want my assistance – what have you done for me?” And from the same song: “With a letter to your Mum saying ‘find enclosed one son – one medal and a note’ – to say he won.”
In these subjects, cautionary and outwardly depressing, Weller is premeditating the next step in Britain’s current wave of National Front/Thatcher-induced patriotic fervour. Be warned.
But the music’s what it’s all about. After all, this is no Bob Dylan record. ‘Girl On The Phone’ is indicative of the style found on most of the album. It’s tuneful, with jangling, upfront guitar. Like the rest, it bites and sings. Paul Weller’s vocals are notably different from previous outings. On ‘Thick As Thieves’ he could be a Beatle, and on ‘Private Hell, the Moody Blues come to mind.
As if that’s not change enough, they use cello and acoustic guitar on ‘Little Boy Soldiers’, recorders on ‘Wasteland’ and The Jam Philharmonic Orchestra on ‘Smithers-Jones’. The last-named track makes the best use of string instruments heard within a rock setting since early ELO. The sound is pompous but rich and properly arranged to full effect.
The one oddity on the package is the old Holland/Dozier/Holland classic, ‘Heatwave’ which, although given an enjoyably energetic treatment, lacks the passion of even the Linda Ronstadt version.
The musical styles may not be new, but neither are The Jam revivalists. Paul Weller obviously has his roots in the 1960s but creates new music within the several genres of influence. Setting Sons is a brave album by one of the more important British groups. 7/10
Jefferson Starship – Freedom At Point Zero (Grunt)
Old hippies never die, it seems. This, the first Starship offering since the unfortunate departure of ice queen Grace Slick, has more life in its grooves than any of their many 1970s albums.
It’s only a partially successful LP, as new blood Micky Thomas (formerly vocalist for the Elvin Bishop band – you’ll remember ‘Fooled Around And Fell In Love’) and Aynsley Dunbar (session drummer supremo) do not write as well as they perform.
Though a spotty album, it’s definitely worth the while of ye olde Airplane fans for the nostalgia of ‘Lightning Rose’ and ‘Things To Come’. Of the new-styled material, only ‘Jane’, the single, stands out amongst the anonymity. Maybe next time. 6/10
Australian groups often lack the distinctive flavour of their Kiwi counterparts, but Oz rock makes up for this deficiency with a large number of quality mainstream units, one of which is Melbourne’s Jo Jo Zep & the Falcons.
The group’s third album, Moving Targets, while lacking the adventure of a Split Enz or cool calculation of a Mi-sex, excels in the quality stakes.
Zep’s music is largely unclassifiable, which probably explains the raw deal this album is getting from much of the music press. But it has rock’n’roll magic in abundance – the kind that makes you want to get up and dance, not listen.
Sometimes Zep uses a reggae beat (as on ‘Hit And Run’, and on a tune worthy of Bob Marley himself, ‘Open Hearted’), but mostly they use a blend of soul, rock and new wave, created to suit the group lineup which features most prominently guitar and sax interplay.
Pete Solley, a British producer, was hired for this venture, and the resulting sound quality is cinemascopic in its wide-screen grandeur.
A limited-edition free live LP is included. This provides adequate demonstration of Zep in a hot’n’sweaty performance, and the sole track on the last side, a nine-minute opus called ‘Cuthulu’, is worth the price of admission alone. 7/10
For a decade the J. Geils Band has been practising their brand of raw, gutsy rhythm and blues oblivious to changing trends. This Boston sextet weathered the onslaught of sterile pomp and turgid heavy metal of the early ‘70s to make some of the most exhilarating, energetic dance music of the modern world.
Unfortunately, exhilaration and energy, as Dr Feelgood and others have discovered, transfer to final vinyl only on rare occasions. To Geils’ credit, they produced a spate of worthy albums: studio efforts such as Bloodshot and Ladies Invited and live bashes such as the classic Fullhouse.
Technology is an overwhelming drawback for such a band though, and more recent albums have been largely uninspired, patchy affairs. But it seems their time has come again with Love Stinks, a mostly successful marriage between modern technology and Geils sound and fury. They haven’t diluted their music so much as assimilated their approach into America’s current fixation for heavy, harmonic power pop.
With the exception of the no-holds-barred energy of ‘Night Time’, all tracks were co-penned by keyboardist Seth Justman (who also produced and arranged the album) and former DJ vocalist Peter Wolf. The standard is well up to scratch. The rest of the band (unchanged since inception) consists of J. Geils himself (guitar), Danny Klein (bass), Stephen Bladd (drums) and Magic Dick (he of the best blues harp this and that side of the great late blues masters).
The best tracks are the long heavy blues of ‘Tryin’ Not To Think About It’ and the old-time Geils sound of ‘Takin’ You Down’ and ‘Night Time’. The rest, while by no means classic Geils, sees the band experimenting and mostly succeeding with sounds such as the single and title track, ‘Love Stinks’ – untypical, jokey yet charming. The subject of the song provides some solace for us unlucky jilted ones. 7/10