No doubt to the consternation of Warner Bros. Records, Rickie Lee Jones took more than three years to follow up her second (and second Top Five, gold-selling) album, Pirates (1981) with The Magazine. (In the interim, the label issued the mini-album of live tracks and outtakes Girl at Her Volcano .) But from the evidence of the finished product, she might have been better advised to take a little longer. Her self-titled first album was a delightful collection of folk-jazz-pop, sparked by the hit single "Chuck E.'s in Love," but it also pointed toward the moodier and more ambitious Pirates. On The Magazine, Jones seems to be rewriting both albums at once. She begins and ends the LP with lengthy, studied compositions, each of which is launched by an instrumental prelude (music that pads out the album), first "Gravity," and then the three-part "Rorscharchs." This material finds her pondering abstract concepts, self-consciously writing in multiple metaphors and similes like someone who spent all night reading Keats. "The Weird Beast," the last part of "Rorscharchs," is weighted down by such lines as "Death speaks the foreign language we don't know." In between these pillars of obscurity, Jones has come up with a batch of songs that often try to recycle the vibe of her first album, notably "Juke Box Fury," which sounds like another "Chuck E.'s in Love," "It Must Be Love," and "The Real End." They're all good songs, but they're songs Jones has written before and better. Where once she sketched lively characters with a line or two of observed detail, now she calls out names -- Danny, Carol -- without cluing anyone in to who they are or why they matter. As usual, her melodies follow the contours of her singing, and producer James Newton Howard matches synthesizers and strings to the rhythms set up by talented session musicians like Steve Gadd, Nathan East, and Dean Parks. So, The Magazine sounds like a Rickie Lee Jones album, just one not on a par with her first two.
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AllMusic Review by William Ruhlmann