Grace Jones: Living My Life (1982)


It’s her prerogative, it’s the way that she wants to live.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 1981 singer-songwriter-model-living canvas Grace Jones crossed over from danceclub diva to mainstream pop star with her Top 40 album Nightclubbing, while its single “Pull Up To The Bumper” hit number 5 on the R&B charts. Finally, it seemed, the world was ready to embrace another hard-edged, brightly colored puzzle besides the Rubik’s Cube, and in 1982 she released her sixth album, the defensive Living My Life.

On the cover Jones scowls like a cagey boxer between rounds, and her songs are indeed riddled with her various sparring partners. Backed by a panoply of Caribbean, French, English and American musicians, her personal fights sound global, universal.

The gypsy Martian reggae of “My Jamaican Guy” lovingly points out the hidden brilliance of her slacker boyfriend (Take a toke from the smoke/Never standing by the door/Just stretching out pan de floor/That way him don’t fall over), yet his infantilism becomes too much for her in the succulent and punchy “Nipple to the Bottle” (Colour and warmth came into your world/It makes me crazy/When you don’t get what you want/You scream and you shout/You’re still a baby).

In a sunny, rippling cover of Melvin Van Peebles “The Apple Stretching” Jones talks of present day New York with the brutal honesty that only comes from one who loves their town (Suburban refugees fleeing the cracked cisterns/Worm ridden fruit trees stream out Grand Central/Pleased to be breathing bagels and pollution).

Jones also, quite shockingly, shows her range as a singer in the unsettling, proto-Pet Shop Boys “Unlimited Capacity for Love”, candidly revealing the woman behind the wacky outfits (And now I must add another to love in my life/It’s one thing to say, to do is another/ If I’m capable of adapting without pressured expense/In a schizoid society in a classic moral sense).

My favorite song is the title track, which inexplicably was left off the album entirely and surfaced as a B-side years later. It’s mock-classical opening slow-ly-winds-up-the-gears-then-BANG! It bounces like a steely, hyper, goofy bobblehead doll, carving out Jones’s psychic toll of remaining true to herself:

Cuss me
Cuss me
You cuss me for living
You cuss me for living my life
You leave me
You leave me
You leave me for living
You leave me for living my life
Hard as I can
As long as I can
As much as I can
As black as I am

Bizarrely, this song that was barely released has its own high-gloss music video, complete with mock suicides, polka-dot mushroom dresses, and monkey masks:

Creating demand for a song that’s nearly impossible to purchase is not the way to follow up your mainstream breakthrough.

THE FALLOUT: Living My Life dropped off the charts faster then President Bush’s 2008 approval rating, ending Jones’s tenure with her label and stopping her one album per year streak. After the ’80s she didn’t release another album for nineteen years.

Living My Life is available from Amazon, the Living My Life” is also available from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

A knockout release that knocked out its own performer, Living My Life is the sound of dub narcotic defiance.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Bernie Worrell shows how it’s done.

Augustus Pablo/King Tubby: King Tubbys meets Rockers Uptown (1975)


The Low End Reality.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: To my sixteen-year old nephew Star Wars has always existed, whereas I distinctly remember life before Darth Vader. By the same token I don’t remember a time when dub music didn’t exist, as its melted beat-eat-eat-EAT-EAT-EAT has always been a part of my listening experience.

Dub was created in the late ‘60s by Jamaican producer King Tubby, who daringly dropped lead singers in and out of their own recordings while bathing instruments in milky delays and boxy distortion. It was an instant, massive hit and much pillaged sound.

Meanwhile, Jamaican producer and musician Augustus Pablo was gaining major international respect due to his mastery of the melodica, a child’s instrument that looks like the love child of a plastic flute and a toy piano. In 1975 he paired with King Tubby to record and remix tracks that became the landmark King Tubbys meets Rockers Uptown.

Like a jungle predator, Rockers Uptown gives the listener heightened sensory powers. The bass is ALL bass, no high-end, no mid-range, just strong, sweet deep bass. Cymbals are ALL treble, sneaky and clicky. Every other sound is time shifted, dissolving at the moment of recognition, like the faded memory of a dead loved one.

“Keep On Dubbing” has a watery drunken piano and a smoky horn section gait that’s akin to traveling along the island, onward and inward, hot like the Jamaican sun. The slow rubbery vibe continues in the scratch percussion of “555 Dub St”. and the slo-mo dishwasher drums of “Satta Dub”.

Pablo’s melodica notes float like bubbles through the air in “King Tubby Meets Rockers Uptown”, its childlike innocence wafting along the ominous rhythms. Hollow drums ping-pong double time into infinity, guitars are delayyyyyed and pop up like muscle tremors.

The ghost vocals of reggae singer Jacob Miller haunt “Each One Dub”. His refrain “Tomorrow will not be the same same same same…” dissipates into a wall of wet organ notes.

Since all of these songs started with such strong compositions, the dub versions manage to create their seductive druggy magic with a minimum of gimmickry, and a maximum of head-bopness.

THE FALLOUT: Rockers Uptown was a watershed album upon its release, catapulting Augustus Pablo into one of the leading lights of reggae music. Alas he was overshadowed by Bob Marley internationally, and this album had little presence outside of reggae circles.

King Tubbys meets Rockers Uptown is available worldwide from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

An art form that only could exist with the advent of multitracking, dub is the first post-modern music genre and is the godfather of hip-hop, electronica and ambient music. King Tubbys meets Rockers Uptown is perhaps its finest hour.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: A masterpiece for your headphones.

Bad Brains: I Against I (1986)


The Black Velvet Underground.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In the list of unsung musical acts that influenced thousands of popular bands, hardcore pioneers Bad Brains stands alone. Surf the radio for any alternative rock station (KoRN, Red Hot Chili Peppers, System of a Down, 311) college music station (Henry Rollins, Beastie Boys, Rage Against The Machine) or Top 40 station (U2, Madonna, Living Colour) and you’ll find an act that has admitted to biting the Bad Brains style.

Their music was either blisteringly fast punk or extremely relaxed reggae, but in 1986 they unified their approach with the landmark I Against I. Simply recorded but sophisticatedly performed, they wrapped blues, jazz and metal around staccato clusters of Jamaican and African polyrhythms and forged a primal and catchy classic.

Using nothing but guitar, bass and drums and throat they conjured the melodic prog-reggae thrash of “Re-Ignition” and the cosmic starkness of “Secret 77”.

Singer HR comes across a man possessed as he croons, raps and howls in the hardcore operetta “I Against I” while also singing sweetly (if incongruously) in the shifty crime saga of “Hired Gun”:

Please sit down, services rendered
Now we must decide the pay
Bargains to bribes, broken agreement
So much more had but to pray
Next a scam to execute, but a bit too cute
So if you’re looking for adventure
Go check the hired gun for sale

Musically a showcase for guitarist Dr. Know’s uncanny fretwork “She’s Calling You” is an explosion of chunky rhythms, tendril melodies, and muscular shredding.

If anything would move an all-black punk band out of the hardcore ghetto, this album was it.

THE FALLOUT: Critics and musicians fell all over themselves with love, but I Against I did not escalate Bad Brains into the mainstream. On the other hand, when your fans sell half a billion records while keeping your name alive, I guess that counts for something.

I Against I is available worldwide from Amazon, and you can sample tracks here:

An unexpected masterwork from an unexpected band, I Against I shockingly sounds as fresh as this morning’s news, and way more rewarding.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: James Brown puts the big hurt on Bing Crosby.

Barry Adamson: Soul Murder (1992)


Crime does not pay, but soundtracks might.

Purchase this album: Amazon

THE SCENE: In 1989, Bad Seeds ex-bassist Barry Adamson released his first solo album Moss Side Story, the acclaimed noir soundtrack to a wholly imagined non-existent thriller. This success led to him scoring an actual movie (1991’s Delusion) and recording his follow-up, the darkly cool construct of Soul Murder.

Thematically concerned with the criminal justice system it begins with “Preface”, which blends air raid sirens with one convicts’ hostile rap sheet recitation from the excellent documentary Scared Straight:

“I’m in for murder, kidnapping, robbery, armed robbery, conspiracy, breakin’ a dude’s jaw and breakin’ a fuckin’ woman’s both her goddamn arms! Look (what) the fuck’s happened to me!”

The mood lightens considerably with the detective yarn “Split”. Adamson narrates the whimsical pastiche of swing jazz and beat poetry under the aliases of “Oscar de la Soundtrack, Mr. Moss Side Gory, (and) Harry Pendulum”. A martini-sharp walking bass line anchors a wonderfully rambling tale of an investigator’s passion for his work.

The glee ends abruptly with “A Gentle Man of Colour”. Over a soundscape of unsettling noises it chillingly recasts a mob lynching as the subject of an emotionless evening news report. Although the story is all too familiar the neutrality of the announcer becomes a new additional horror.

From this point on, Soul Murder makes a detour into other pseudo-scores. The icy keyboards of “Checkpoint Charlie” hint at a midnight chase through a Eurail station, while the throbbing and whistle-filled “Un Petit Miracle” is ripe for addition to early 80s French cartoons.

“007, A Fantasy Bond Theme” is a clever scenario that re-imagines James Bond as a Jamaican daydreamer, resulting in an inspired ska-based. period-sounding interpretation of the James Bond theme.

“The Adamson Family” is a swinging toe-tapper that begins, quite naturally, with the actual sound of toe taps. Strings swirls around a sweet marimba that brings to mind skating in a “black tie only” ice rink, if such an ice rink existed.

Not that an objects’ physical existence has been a sticking point for Barry Adamson.

THE FALLOUT: As you may have read in my Terence Trent D’Arby review, it’s quite common to suffer the sophomore slump if your first album was an out-of-the-box success. Soul Murder was received as a letdown after the brilliance of Moss Side Story, and remains one of Barry Adamson’s more obscure albums.

Soul Murder is available worldwide from Amazon and you can sample tracks here:

A dark yet comical enigma, the conceptual flights of Soul Murder are a refreshing change from the bold and logical.

See you next Wednesday.

NEXT WEEK: Chuck D realizes that dropping science can get you dropped.