Saturday, May 21, 2011

30 Songs, 30 Days, Day Fifteen: Goin' Downtown by Joe Jackson

Another Jackson song, this one from an interesting period in his career. 'Goin' Downtown' is from Laughter and Lust, the album for which Jackson gave up on his stance to no longer do videos (he objected to the way that A&M Records has issued a video for the song 'Breaking Us In Two' without his permission).

Apparently, after willfully working the rest of his contract with A&M with a series of increasingly uncommercial (but still listenable) albums--one that featured his aborted soundtrack for the James Bridges film Mike's Murder, a mock jazz album, the impressive recorded-live three-sided album Big World that's a personal favorite, and an album of instrumentals--he signed with Virgin and produced Laughter and Lust, a screed about how unhappy Jackson is with the world and the career he's chosen disguised expertly as a pop album.

And that's the greatest trick of this album. Every last one of these songs is soaked in vitriol and anger, and yet they're sweet, upbeat and exciting numbers--hell, the song that was the single for the album, "Obvious Song" was just one complaint after another done in that pulsing, jazzy Jackson style. Even the cover, which has Jackson dressed up as Buster Keaton dressed as a prisoner complete with ball and chain, speaks of the snarkiness with which he viewed his then-present condition.

This song is one of a number of songs that explore Jackson's love/hate affair he has with New York City. He's lived here off and on since 1982 (he presently lives in Berlin, although he still maintains a place in this city, as well as Portsmouth, England). As in keeping with the teeth-bared nature of the album, Jackson talks about the habit some New Yorkers have of traveling to Greenwich Village, Soho, and Chelsea under the pretense of 'hanging out'--but actually to watch the various 'freaky' people who live there go about their lives and mock them. It has the usual upbeat and happy tone--but with a sneering resignedness underneath, as if Jackson wants to break the habit but just can't. It's the flip side to some of his previous New York-centric songs, like 'Chinatown', the side that shows the shadows that dwell in the corners of the bright lights....

After Laughter and Lust, he did one more pop album, Night Music before signing with Sony Classical and producing a pair of symphonies and returning to his roots as a singer/songwriter with jazz tendencies with his albums from Rykodisc. He also released some amazing live albums (one, released by Sony Classical, features a blistering cover of 'Summer In The City,' adding to his suite of New York songs) which I recommend you do pick up.

No video for this one, but here's a live performance of the number from a 2008 performance in Vancouver. In some ways, I've felt Jackson's work is best experienced live, where the raw honesty of his voice, and his true love of jazz stylings come to the enjoy.

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