Look Sharp!

Joe Jackson

A&M, 1979

http://joejackson.com

REVIEW BY: Michael R. Smith

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 06/08/2014

The 1970’s couldn’t have ended on a stronger note. Disco was coming to an acrimonious end and New Wave was starting to make an imprint on the American culture. Beer-soaked pub rock, however, would always be popular. And this is where Englishman Joe Jackson comes in. To be clear, Joe is white and is no relation to Michael Jackson and his brothers, who were all the rage at the time and whose father’s name was Joe. It’s interesting that he would decide to keep this as his stage name, despite the fact that he was born as David Ian Jackson. No matter, Joe Jackson it was and he still managed to make a name for himself not only in Britain and the US, but worldwide. He’d even go on to win an impressive five Grammys and was also something of a critic’s darling. Let Michael become a prisoner of his own superstar status, Joe would wisely limit his media exposure and focus solely on what was most important: the music.

And what mad skills Mr. Joe Jackson had. He had the distinctive voice and could play nearly as many instruments as Prince. This guy was Talented with a capital T. No, he was never a glamour puss, but back then it didn’t matter. Joe Jackson was always a dude you went to HEAR play live.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Only when MTV became the gold standard a few years later would the game change completely. But by then, Joe was well established and had plenty of credibility in the music industry. He had his own signature style. A pinstripe suit and skinny tie was all you needed. Top it off with a Fedora and you’re good to go, receding hairlines be damned. “You gotta look sharp!” would even be a line in the title track of his sterling debut album.

Producer David Kershenbaum deserves a lot of credit in tapping into the flavor of the moment. Look Sharp is indeed a product of 1979, but it’s also a timeless listen at the same time. From the opening strains of what sounds like an outtake by The Police in “One More Time,” to the clever and cheeky hit single “Is She Really Going Out With Him,” the words “fresh” and “new” instantly come to mind. The Police comparison is an apt one, though I doubt Sting could handle spewing sarcasm like Joe does in his delivery of those “Sunday Papers.” What makes Look Sharp work so well is the fact that Joe doesn’t hold back or sugarcoat things in his lyrics. It’s what gives this material its punk edge. My only quibble is that the music itself gets a little repetitive. Had only the redundant “Happy Loving Couples” been cut, we’d have a perfect debut on our hands. It’s telling that at the end of that seemingly endless song even Joe himself says, “Okay, that’s enough.” That’s right fellas, best to quit while you’re ahead.

Joe Jackson is a singer/songwriter in the same vein as Elton John and Billy Joel. The piano and guitar were the central elements in his sound. There was a ska influence that set him apart, however, as evidenced on the laidback number “Fools In Love.” Jazz influences also helped in fleshing it all out, especially on subsequent albums. On Look Sharp, it was all about immediacy and an infectious beat. Angular, jagged guitar would punctuate “(Do The) Instant Mash,” before completely laying down the gauntlet on the surprising punk numbers “Throw It Away” and “Got The Time.” Yeah, you’ll be scratching your head too by album’s end. It’ll make you a fan and a believer that all things are possible, because in the world of Joe Jackson, they are.

Rating: A-

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