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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.”