[…continued from last post]
Track three was the deepest dive into the reggae bucket that the Compass Point All Stars band made their usual living in. The harsh, angular stabs of white noise synthetic percussion delivering a THWACK every bar along with the space disco synth swooshes, managed to inject mutant New Wave DNA into the laidback reggae pulse carried effortlessly by Robbie Shakespeare’s subterranean bass lines. The massed backing vocals with Ms. Jones delivering strident counterpoint to her ferocious leads.
The title track Bowie/pop cover began, subtly, with a tattoo on the snare as the loping groove kept to a low volume level and BPM as the volume levels gradually rose. The watery tremolo on the keyboards made certain that the energy level her was as diffuse and dissipated as possible. Only the tympani roll to emphasize the lyric “we learn dances, brand new dances, like the nuclear bomb” threatened to upset the apple cart any. The lead in to the middle eight with Ms. Jones double tracking her vocal binaurally was the trippiest part of this still and eerie cover that was more than halfway to a dub mix. What would we all give to hear a dub of this entire album by a master?
After all of this burning intensity and steely-eyed glaring, “Art Groupie” came as a surprise in the album to begin side two with a light touch and a rare showing of the playful side of Ms. Jones. The winsome, piccolo-like synths riding the top of the melody were offset by the song’s bass line, which sounded like it was processed with Mu-Tron® envelopes. It was a daring change of pace.
Another of the many singles from this album was the lissome song “I’ve Seen That Face Before [Libertango];” a vocal version of Astor Piazzolla’s sumptuous tango. It was a track that saw the DNA of French Chanson, Tango, and Reggae being resequenced with aplomb. Jack Emblow’s eloquent accordion playing was a thing to be savored her as Ms. Jones wove threads of both French and English to aid in creating the captivating spell of this number.
The percussive, fleet footed “Feel Up” was another light moment in the program. The nimble track was gifted with a unique percussion sound with Jones panting rhythmically; moving with her breathing into the space where a scratcher would normally be employed. The keyboard rondo that anchored the tune was buoyant and the massed chorus vocals in English, contrasted with the patois dialogue the song was built around between Tryone Downie and Ms. Jones. I don’t understand it but it sounded like Downie was being read the riot act from Jones while street dogs were barking in the surrounding environment.
We next had a song that was a weird example of a cover version that was released in advance of the “original” song by the group who wrote it. Grace Jones’ even more angular take on “Demolition Man,” the Police song from “Ghost In The Machine” was released five months before the original reached out ears. The lurching Funk Reggae concoction coiled and slithered like a snake as Ms. Jones adopted her fully hardened warrior stance for the vocal. The atonal guitar chords that erupted on occasion hit with the force of a face slap. Ironically echoing the open chording that Andy Summers had used heavily in crafting the sound of The Police.
The final song in the program is one that’s come to be a real luxurious treat to these ears many years on. “I’ve Done It Again” may be the closest that Grace Jones ever came to the Yacht Rock, but it comes by its insouciant, laid back vibe as honestly as it can with Ms. Jones cruising over the minimal perfection of the music with an affecting and downright music vocal performance that saw her singing on this album for the first time!
As this was my first Grace Jones experience, it seemingly came out of nowhere. I had no idea, but the song even managed to move into an upbeat middle eight in a major key that had her projecting for the one time here. This was a wonderful song, that, over the many years, has become one that I’ll just get in the mood to hear on repeat for a half hour or so. Her phrasing on the chord sequence in the chorus captivates my ears and I simply can’t get enough of it sometimes.
This album was another of the many treasures that seemed to manifest like mushrooms in the magical year of 1981. There was a lot of magic in the air that year, but nothing else like what this album offered us. It was the point where the Art of Grace Jones was perfected. She was a fascinating combination of brush, canvas, paint, and artist and while she famously had her paramour, Jean-Paul Goode styling her art, it could not have happened this way with any other singer-slash-model. Or band. Her albums with the Compass Point All Stars were a perfect storm of Post-Punk, Funk, and Reggae but this one of the three stands tallest with an enviable balance of fire, fury, friskiness, and pathos.
It had impeccable curation and song selection. Six widely diverse songs were covered and three more songs came from the artist and the band and these were first among the songs here. Nothing was throwaway, and there was not an ounce of fat to be trimmed from the program. “Nightclubbing” was the sound of an artist and the others in her orbit reaching full ripeness.
Not for nothing was co-producer Alex Sadkin’s dance card filled for the rest of his regretfully brief life on the basis of what he was able to capture here. There were a lot fo artists who wanted some of the magic here, but alas, it was not to be duplicated elsewhere. While I enjoy some of his other productions they haven’t a spot on the range and capability on offer here. And certainly for me, “Nightclubbing” was a ground zero for the notion of Grace Jones as an artist to follow with ardent interest, even though her path saw her out of the recording studio for far too long, her last opus was what we really needed to hear. And even that’s been thirteen years hence. Here’s hoping that the long mooted followup to “Hurricane” sees the light of day, but even if it doesn’t, we’ll always have “Nightclubbing.”
An excellent analysis as usual,of a superb,iconic album.
I didnt hear it until about 1984,but it blew my 16 year old mind.
That run of albums in the early 80s is unsurpassed,but when Hurricane came out I was extremely disappointed and only listened to it about twice.I also enjoy the disco-era albums and their beautiful Bernstein sleeves.
Gavin – Gosh. You are a party on one on “Hurricane.” I’ve never come across anyone who wasn’t “blown away” by it. I still need to hear the Disco era. That nice boxed set from a few years back with all the extras is creeping up out of reach. What I was disappointed by, in comparison, were the albums that came after the Compass Point era. “Slave To The Rhythm” is thin in spite of Trevor Horn [the only person who would try such a feat] inflating an album from a single track. And the single I caught from “Inside Story” strongly dissuaded me from buying it, so that never happened. And I see that the completely unknown follow up, “Bulletproof Heart,” had tracks produced by Clivilles + Cole. Oh my. Still, one day I should hear these two. After all, I eventually relented on Bowie’s “Lets’ Dance.” [though I regretted it]
I really love “Inside Story”! All of Side One is a dream,the production is very of its time but superb nonetheless.
“Bulletproof Heart” I bought on CD at the time of release,but it has never been a favourite.
You are totally right about STTR.I would dearly love to hear the original first demo of the song,as sung by Toyah.
Gavin – So Toyah sang the demo of “Slave To The Rhythm?!” I learn something new each day. Did she come to the song via Bruce Woolley? Was that a publishing demo?
Simon Darlow is the link-he has been working with Toyah on and off since the late 70s,and she sang the first version of STTR.They have often mentioned it but never teased us with a clip. Darlow has been Toyah’s producer and main songwriting partner for some time (for her solo work,not with The Humans)
Gavin – If it was snake, it would have bit me! It’s been so long since I spun my copy I forgot that Woolley and Darlow were both writers on that. Of course I know Darlow as he’s on all of the Toyah and Buggles records cluttering up my Record Cell! D’oh!
I think it was in Brian Nash’s autobiography where I read that Slave to the Rhythm was shopped to FGTH for their second album and they turned it down. I’m pretty sure there’s a demo of it floating around on the web.
I was introduced to Grace Jones’ musical career about 1986. Blown away. Wore out my cassette of this. Holds up to this day. Much of her work holds up. A fantastic and underrated artist. This album is just phenomenal.
Everyone slightly into New Wave back then had this and of course “Warm Leatherette”.
The plenty cover versions gave her room for what she is – an excellent interpreter with a dependence on the right producer & musicians.
Those two albums where a must have albeit if I had to decide I’d not choose “Nightclubbing” due to the poorer song selection, also “Warm Leatherette” is way more cohersive, the weakest song the only one she has co-written… Anyway not everyone needs to be a great performer and writer.
A welcome addition to these (and the following Alex Sadkin produced “Living My Life”) is the 1998 2CD Compass Point Sessions (well at least CD1, CD2 ends unfittingly without need with the 12″ mix of “Slave To The Rhythm”). 12″ Mixes, Unreleased Versions etc. If you only want one Grace Jones Compilation at all I’d recommend this.
slur – “The Compass Point Sessions” as you correctly say, is the Grace Jones CD to have if you’re only having one. But my allegiance is to “Nightclubbing” over “Warm Leatherette.” The latter I find too brittle and arid. The inclusion of The Pretenders’ “Private Life” drags for me; just as it did in the hands of Ms. Hynde. While I appreciate her take on the title track, nothing tops The Normal’s original. The original was the most willfully reductive music I have ever heard. Or ever will hear. “The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game” was a song like “The Man Who Sold the World.” A tune that resisted all attempts to perform it and make me care. Then there’s Tom Petty.
The thing I love most about Grace is how her creative life seems like one extended piece of performance art. There’s something for me to love on every one of her albums, from Portfolio to Hurricane. I’m less enthused by her filmography, but appreciate that everything she does remains completely Grace. Finally seeing her live just two two years ago was a total “bucket-list” moment which did not disappoint. Not sure if Nightclubbing is my favorite of her studio albums (on some days I might go for Warm Leatherette), but Island Life is absolutely one of the most essential greatest hits collections ever assembled.
Taffy – Yeah, the only Grace Jones film I liked was “Bloodlight + Bami.” And it’s a good thing I read her autobio first! I had to explain the film to my wife as we were watching it [in a theater] since the director preferred…oblique opacity. I had exactly one chance to see Grace Jones. August 1998 at Downtown Disney – Pleasure Island. Not my kind of place, but Jones was banned from Disney afterward for smoking a spliff and showing too much skin! Tardiness was apparently okay. What were the suits thinking!? I know it was Disney but perhaps we should have gone! But I was not into the Capitol era and was a bit precious about these things. Unlike now.