While Joe Jackson's evolution into a "serious" composer of contemporary art music hasn't been especially smooth (at least for his audience), you've got to give the guy credit -- he's a thorough professional, and when he reunited with the original Joe Jackson Band for 2003's Volume 4 and a subsequent world tour, he didn't sound like a guy sucking up to his old fan base as one might have feared, but a sharp pop songwriter who still had plenty to say and was having fun saying it, even if he had been pursuing other angles. That feeling carries through on Afterlife, recorded during four California dates on the Volume 4 tour during the fall of 2003. While the set list features three songs from the reunion album and two from after he parted ways with the band, it's the material from Jackson's first three albums that dominates this album, and after more than two decades apart, this group sounds plenty fresh and enthusiastic even on the oldest numbers. The foursome is in absolutely superb form -- Jackson's keyboard lines are at once sophisticated and concise, and guitarist Gary Sanford, bassist Graham Maby, and drummer Dave Houghton are a peerless rhythm section, with boundless energy and an equal share of imagination and smarts. While Jackson and his cohorts have adjusted their old arrangements a bit, they've managed to maintain the feel of the original versions of these tunes, and the result seems less like a stroll down memory lane than a band tackling their back catalog with a combination of fresh ears and seasoned expertise. In short, Afterlife is just the kind of live album that makes you hope that Jackson will go back on his word and take this band out on the road one more time.
AllMusic Review by Mark Deming