January 23, 2019 Joe Jackson – Fool (Album Review)
If there is one lesser hailed singer-songwriter than the likes of David Bowie (Blackstar), Elton John (Wonderful Crazy Tonight), and Billy Joel (Fantasies & Delusions) yet equally if not more significant in his own way—then it should be Joe Jackson, who has been releasing music also prolifically and proficiently since the late 1970s.
Born on August 11, 1954, in Burton upon Trent, Staffordshire, England, Jackson released his first album in 1979, Looking Sharp! What followed was a splendid string of stylistically diverse works that delved not only on Pop, New Wave, and Sophistipop but also on Classical, Light Jazz, and Film Scores. This included 1982’s Night and Day – where the now ubiquitous New Wave Pop staple “Breaking Us in Two” came from; 1988’s soundtrack to the film Tucker; 1999’s Classical/Jazz opus Symphony no. 1; and 2015’s four-part narrative Fast Forward.
After ending his Summer 2018 North American Tour, Jackson, with his longtime music collaborator Graham Maby (bass), along with Teddy Kumpel (guitar) and Doug Yowell (drums), then entered the studio to record new materials. The result was Fool, a fresh offering from this quirky artist’s reinvigorated and road-tempered team.
Released on January 18, 2019, through earMUSIC, Jackson’s twentieth album, titled Fool, is a solid, tight, and lush batch of eight well-written tracks that take Jackson back to his trademark style—soulful and engaging songs oozing with Pop sensibilities yet lengthy enough to assert the meticulous composer’s musical indulgence.
Fool opens with the grand, imposing, and assured Pop Rock energy of “Big Black Cloud,” in which Jackson’s piano-and-vocal combo is as distinctive as ever. This is followed by the album’s apt and bursting first single—the frenetic and slightly progressive “Fabulously Absolute.” Jackson then turns reflective with the nostalgic and melodic “Dave,” which features a beautiful piano-and-guitar call-and-response interlude. Further slowing down the ambiance is “Strange Land,” in which Jackson’s vocal timbre turns relaxed and his minimalist piano melodies reminiscent of New Wave/Sophistipop classics like “The First Picture of You” by The Lotus Eaters, Suzanne Vega’s “Left of Center,” China Crisis’s “Strength of Character,” and Fra Lippo Lippi’s “Even Tall Trees Bend.”
“Friend Better” then returns the listener to the overall sunny and angular predisposition of Fool—a bit Steely Dan (“Do It Again”), a tad The Bible (“Crystal Palace”). Jackson then turns loose and playful in the ensuing Post-Punk/Ska title track.
With the penultimate “32 Kisses,” Jackson draws sonic inspiration from some of his iconic hits; in particular, “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” and “Steppin’ Out.” Finally, he wraps up his unmissable addition to his rich discography with its longest track—the Light Jazz/Bossa Nova balladry of “Alchemy.”
He may not be as much-talked as the aforementioned legendary icons, but Jackson is doubtlessly among them in the pantheon of great singer-songwriters the Pop music world has ever produced. Fool is another testament of this assertion. Cryptic Rock gives it 5 out of 5 stars.