Saturday, February 07, 2009

Joe Jackson, I'm the Man

Will amazon publish a review that includes the word "fag?" Stay tuned...

(update: they will indeed! Submit your violently homophobic reviews today! Unfortunately, it's been transported back to 2002-ish, where my older, lamer review of the album had been)

I think I gave short shrift to this album earlier. While it isn't on the same level as Look Sharp!, which is just about perfect, I now see that it has more than enough transcendent moments to tip the balance in its favor.

I maintain, however, that "The Band Wore Blue Shirts" is a pretty bad song--musically not very interesting, with lyrics that aren't nearly as clever as they want to be. And "Kinda Kute," while perhaps not bad, isn't anything more than the title would indicate.

That's not the end of it, though, because there are also a number of songs that, while musically appealing, have lyrics that kind of make you wish you didn't understand English. "Geraldine and John" has a nice reggae beat, but the song's central conceit--that we're meant to be shocked! SHOCKED! by "they are married but of course...not to each other," which, as far as sordid revelations go, ain't much--is just comical. The title track is pleasingly propulsive, but its anti-consumerism message is quite overwhelmed by the "you dern kids get off my lawn" vibe that it gives off (skateboards, Joe? Seriously?). And finally, in "Don't Wanna Be like that" (yes, I'm going there--I don't know that you can honestly talk about this album without at least mentioning it), there is just no level on which the line "and the Playboy centerfold leaves me cold, and that ain't 'cause I'm a fag" is not deeply unfortunate (although more than balanced out by later songs like "Fit" and "Real Men").

That still leaves us, however, with five songs which are unreservedly great. "On Your Radio" is joyously vindictive, if such a thing is possible. You gotta hear me on your raaa-diii-oooooo! Likewise, "Get that Girl" is a pure, giddy rush. However, we also see more emotional range than we did on Look Sharp!. When Jackson intones that "you're no aaaaamateur" on "Amateur Hour," the anguish is palpable, and "Friday" paints a compassionate portrait of a girl poorly equipped to face the world's harsh realities. Probably the best "waiting for the weekend" song I know. And let us not forget "It's Different for Girls," that gentle, bemused look at the confusions and contradictions of gender roles and relations. If only for these songs (and hell, maybe you'll feel differently about the others), I'm the Man is kind of a no-brainer for fans of smart, energetic pop music.


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