Record Review: Grace Jones – “Slave To The Rhythm” US CD

grace jones slave to the rhythm
Island | US | CD | 1987 | 422 842 612-2

Grace Jones: Slave To The Rhythm – US – CD [1987]

  1. Jones the Rhythm
  2. The Fashion Show
  3. The Frog And The Princess
  4. Operattack
  5. Slave To The Rhythm
  6. The Crossing [Ooh The Action…]
  7. Don’t Cry – It’s Only The Rhythm
  8. Ladies And Gentlemen: Miss Grace Jones

Leave it to Trevor Horn at the height of the “High ZTT” era that he could end up making a single with Grace Jones that could balloon into a complete album from the sessions of just one single! One imagines that the making of that single racked up enough studio hours and budgetary overkill that perhaps it was one of ZTT beleaguered accountants who mused aloud, “too bad this wasn’t the budget for a full album” which undoubtedly set Horn off with a mischievous twinkle in his eye.

His brain trust; Paul Morley and Stephen Lipson, were obviously up for the challenge. Horn typically spent weeks the studio crafting the latest FGTH opii. Why not do the same with the iconic Miss Grace Jones? Horn’s old cohorts Bruce Woolley and Simon Darlow were roped in to co write with Horn and Lipson and the song was soon on paper, ready to record.

Which they did in several radically different versions. Over who knows how many weeks/months. While the single was released and at number 12, became tied with a later re-issue of the lubricious “Pull Up To The Bumper” to be Ms. Jones’ top charting UK single. Though a glance at the UK Top Ten for that week revealed ten lesser songs [including aha’s “Take On Me” from yesterday’s post] that should have prostrated themselves and stepped out of the way to make room at number one for Ms. Jones. Meanwhile Horn’s Theam managed to craft an entire album out of the sessions for a single A-side. Did they succeed?

The first of “8 bits,” let us know what we were in for in this very Zang Tuum Tumb production. It was immediate up front where the Paul Morley influence first manifested on this album on “Jones The Rhythm,” as actor Ian McShane was enlisted to read excerpts from Ian Penman’s essay “The Annihilation of Rhythm” in the plumiest tones imaginable. Had Richard Burton not been deceased by them, I’m all but certain that the call would have gone out to him! After the stage was suitably set, “Jones The Rhythm” revealed itself to be a drastically radical re-think of the song we all know and love. It opened like a Chinese Opera fed into a sampler before picking up its pace of a stomping, pixilated Rock groove full of the grunts and exhortations of backing vocalist Glenn Gregory. he sounded like his performance might have been made entirely from samples of his performance on “Crushed By the Wheels Of Industry!” The rest was mostly down to strings and beat with Ms. Jones in Valkyrie mode.

Cut into the space between the tracks, and sometimes within the tracks themselves, were sections of interviews with Grace by Paul Cooke and Paul Morley, giving the whole project a hint of a biographical air. Once “The Fashion Show” moved on from the interview snippet up front, it was down to the Go-Go rhythm track from the hit version of the song given a dub treatment, with Steven Lipson’s guitar gliding in on enough sustain for days. Luxurious, for certain.

“The Frog And The Princess” was the biggest piece of reportage here, as it featured McShane reading from Jean-Paul Goode’s autobiography, “Jungle Fever;” relating in brief his time spent as a partner with Grace Jones. Famously making her image over into the look that carried her from cult concern to icon as she made ever more daring fusions of Reggae and New Wave on disc. Since there was more content here than elsewhere, the music bed was content to keep a low profile as the moody rhythm was punctuated occasionally by crashes of white noise percussion.

The least musical thing here was the brief “Operattack,” which consisted manipulated vocal samples of Jones and McShane into a near psychotic stew of overdubs and shifting pitches. Then it was time for the second appearance of the song. Called “Slave To The Rhythm” her but crucially, it’s not the hit single version yet. It’s moving on from the first version we heard, with similar slamming beats, with the hints of Go-Go were beginning to creep in. But the chorus was a minor key variation that made this another harsher, variant on the classic song yet to come in the program.

“The Crossing” was an ambient construction of digital crickets and gentle percussion with the occasional vocal sample to add zest. The last mood piece was “Don’t Cry… It’s Only The Rhythm.” An unusual, binaurally mixed minimal dub of the rhythm track with the Lipson Service Guitar cruising in over the fingersnaps for a touch of Gilmour.

grace jones slave to the rhythm

Confusingly, the finale track, “Ladies And Gentlemen: Miss Grace Jones,” was actually the track that the hit single had been edited from. You or I would know this as “Slave To The Rhythm” but for the predilections of Paul Morley. Which has amusingly resulted in many compilations sourcing track number five [since that was the title on the box] to source the hit “Slave To The Rhythm,” only to have a song very unlike the familiar hit manifest instead.

In any case, the song was a sumptuous, digital layer cake, stacked impressively high on a nascently trendy a Go-Go beat foundation. Actually played by flesh + blood musicians from the band Wash Them Go-Go. The Synclavier was mostly used here as sonic glue to hold the cast of thousands together as the large cast of players were orchestrated under the “The Strictly Unreasonable Zang Tuum Tumb Big Beat Colossus” moniker.

Lush washes of synth were given a living, breathing drum and percussion track played by steely eyed, flat bodied professionals. A reasonably large string and brass orchestra under the aegis of Mr. Horn; doing what he did best. It’s the kind of music that probably isn’t being made as I type these words in this fallen modern world. Through it all, Ms. Jones lilts and coaxes us forward to the song’s climax, which managed to insert a middle eight drop where Ms. Jones took the last word in her own story. The rousing climax of “and now, ladies and gentlemen, herrrrrrrres Grace!” always manages to send a tingle through the spine as the two Pauls concluded their interviews with the star.

I was lucky that I managed to get a CD of this in 2006 through the period where I was leaning heavily on LaLa; the late, lamented CD trading site. At the time, the CD was OOP and out of my budget, but LaLa prevailed and I got a copy for the going rate of a dollar and something I wanted to trade out. I previously had the US LP [confusingly on the EMI/Manhattan imprint – this CD dated two years later was on Island; her old label] of this title but that was traded out in the Great Vinyl Purge of 1985. And I never managed to find a used CD of the title for a long time.

Being a full scale, ZTT production, of course it’s good. But it’s nowhere near the caliber of the three Island albums that preceded it. For years I thought of it as the last good album Grace Jone had made. I was not convinced at the time by “Inside Story” or “Bulletproof Heart.” But the appearance of “Hurricane” in 2008 gave us one more classic Grace Jones album to join the second Island trilogy. Leaving this very chic and sleek 80s confection being the outlier to nowhere in the Grace Jones discography. Which makes sense as it’s more about the last gasp of the ZTT house sound right before it peaked with the first Propaganda album. In two years, the label would become irrelevant to my ears, but on “Slave To The Rhythm” Trevor Horn’s ZTT engine was still firing on all cylinders.


About postpunkmonk

graphic design | software UI design | remastering vinyl • record collector • satire • non-fiction
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5 Responses to Record Review: Grace Jones – “Slave To The Rhythm” US CD

  1. Have to agree with much of this fine review. Love the single, but the album squashes Jones to make way for the ZTT “visionaries” and much of it has dated poorly to my ears.


  2. Tim says:

    Have you acquired the Trevor Horn autobio that came out in October?
    There’s ebook versions in Europe however I have yet to find one in the States.
    Amazon just has imports of the physical book and ask crazy $$$ for it.
    I keep hoping that in time we’ll have a kindle version here.
    Am very intrigued to read it.


  3. I think of this less as an album and more of an EP.


  4. Pingback: Superproducer Trevor Horn Recounts His “Adventures In Modern Recording” In His Autobiography | Post-Punk Monk

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