Joe Jackson (photo by Jacob Blickenstaff)
Work Song Incorporated Records
Over a career spanning nearly forty years, Joe Jackson has been one of pop music’s most adventurous and creatively restless artists. It has been seven years since he released his last studio album, Rain, but the wait for a new collection of songs has ended with the arrival of Fast Forward.
Jackson's career has always reflected stylistic shifts and explorations in genres. With the release of his first two albums in 1979, Look Sharp! and I’m The Man, Jackson joined the ranks of Britain’s crop of angry, young songwriters, like Elvis Costello or Graham Parker. But the punk-infused New Wave rock of Beat Crazy shifted, surprisingly, to ‘40s-era swing and big band jazz via 1981’s Joe Jackson’s Jumpin’ Jive. Thereafter, Jackson has explored modern day, classically-inspired compositions, Cole Porter-esque pop on Night and Day, movie soundtracks like Mike’s Murder, operatic pop on Heaven & Hell, and even Duke Ellington’s oeuvre on The Duke. In 2003, to mark the twenty-fifth anniversary of the band that recorded Jackson’s first three landmark albums, he released the rocking Volume 4.
However, throughout all of these moods and changes, Jackson has remained a pop singer and songwriter at heart and his most consistent albums reflect this. Fast Forward is a collection of the type of sophisticated pop that made works like the Night And Day, Big World or Rain fan favorites. The initial idea for the new album was to release a series of EPs recorded in different cities, each featuring different musicians. The concept was revised to collect all of the songs and put them on one album: Fast Forward.
This bounty of sixteen tracks is divided into four sections featuring a quartet of songs recorded New York, Amsterdam, Berlin and New Orleans. The New York sessions feature guitar whiz Bill Frisell, drummer Brian Blade, Jackson’s longtime bassist Graham Maby, and jazz violinist Regina Carter. In Amsterdam, Joe worked with Stefan Schmid and Stefan Kruger of Zuco 103, the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra, and 14-year-old Broadway actor Mitchell Sink. Berlin collaborators included bassist Greg Cohen and Tindersticks drummer Earl Harvin. For his New Orleans sessions, Joe jammed with three members of Galactic—drummer Stanton Moore, bassist Robert Mercurio and guitarist Jeffrey Raines—and a horn section that includes saxophonist Donald Harrison, Jr.
Each section of Fast Forward reveals a vibe that makes it unique to its locale, from a light taste of soulful funk in Jackson’s New Orleans section to the lush strings of Amsterdam. The New York songs, including a cover of Television’s “See No Evil,” possess the grit of the city, while the Berlin sessions stretch from the mean-spirited bite of Jackson’s own “Junkie Diva” to a cover of a ‘30s cabaret song, “Good Bye Jonny.” In some respects, it recalls Jackson's 1986 release Big World, a diverse 15-song travelogue that felt like jet setting around the globe.
Diverse locales don’t keep Fast Forward from feeling like a unified work; Jackson’s songwriting sets the narrative here. There’s the sunny “A Little Smile,” the sophisticated pop of “If It Wasn’t For You,” the jazzy “So You Say,” the bile-laced sting of “If I Could See Your Face,” and the organ-touched rocker “Neon Rain.” The travels of Fast Forward end with the exhilarating finale “Ode To Joy.”
Jackson’s sense of musical wanderlust propels Fast Forward; it’s a strong and vibrant release from a man whose songwriting has touched (astonishingly) five decades. He has no plans to become artistically stagnant; the aggravated young artist of years ago is still as restless as ever.