Joe Jackson, "Fool"
Joe Jackson and his band went straight from the stage to the studio to record "Fool," and his 20th studio album displays plenty of the dynamics and energy usually found in live performances.
Released nearly 40 years to the day after "Look Sharp!" — his landmark 1979 debut — the songs on "Fool" are full of momentum, musings on the grinds and pleasures of modern living, and sounds that echo different stages of Jackson's long career, a master class in never settling in one style for too long.
While Jackson says he's unsure about the strength of the vinyl revival, he nonetheless envisioned the 43-minute collection as "two complementary sides," comedy and tragedy. Luckily, it sounds just fine on CD and download, too.
Opener "Big Black Cloud" rumbles storm-like as every component of the keyboards-guitar-bass-drum quartet gets its own space and Jackson paints a dire picture of middle-class existence. "Fabulously Absolute" has plenty of verve, keyboard sounds that could be from both the late Keith Emerson or Weezer and the perspective of a "deplorable" who can't help having a rough time fitting in.
"Friend Better" rounds out the phrase beginning with "lover good," with another unmistakable Jackson piano part harkening back to 1982's "Night and Day," one of his most successful releases. "32 Kisses" is about a couple that grows "from kids to man and wife," though apparently without a fairy-tale ending, while "Alchemy," a classy ballad, invokes the wonder and mystery magicians can conjure out thin air.
Then there's longtime Jackson associate Graham Maby's serpentine bass solo on the title track. Only a fool would expect them to look any sharper.