Joe Jackson

Volume 4

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It only took two albums before Joe Jackson got restless, pushing away from the nervy, high-octane, well-crafted punk-pop of Look Sharp! and I'm the Man toward the ska leanings of Beat Crazy, before abandoning the Joe Jackson Band altogether. Without them, he roamed wild, laying the groundwork for neo-swing with Jumpin' Jive and etching out sophisti-pop on his Cole Porter/George Gershwin-flavored Night and Day, before expanding into symphonic compositions and other increasingly esoteric stylistic exercises, whittling his audience down to just the dedicated in the process. Even among those dedicated fans, the first two Jackson albums were cherished, and Jackson acknowledged that on occasion by appropriating the sound, as on 1991's Laughter & Lust. Still, it took him a full 23 years to reunite his original band, an event celebrated by the release of Volume 4 (the title indicating that this is the fourth go-round for this band, kind of like how Van Halen III kicked off the third incarnation of the band). It would be inaccurate to say that this captures the bristling energy or spitting vitriol of the first two records, though Volume 4 certainly follows a similar template and often feels similar in form, if not in substance, to that pair. It also recalls Night and Day in parts (ironically, moreso than the explicit 2000 sequel Night and Day II), which means it winds up being a revival of the classic Joe Jackson sound instead of the Joe Jackson Band. Frankly, that's not a problem; if this is going to be a nostalgia exercise, at least in part, it should be about the overarching idea of Jackson as much as the particulars. Plus, it's a good record -- his best pure pop in at least a decade. It's a little front-loaded and, at times, it may seem a little labored or self-conscious, but usually it sounds relaxed and tuneful, as if Jackson is relieved to just be cutting a record of pop tunes instead of worrying about a grand concept or symphonic movements. And while the band certainly has mellowed with age, they still bring his music to life better than any other outfit he's worked with, giving it definition and muscle. It may be true that Volume 4 isn't as lively or vital as his first five albums, but it's also more satisfying as a pop record than anything he's done since Body & Soul, which is more than enough to make it a worthy comeback.

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