Friday, 15 July 2016

"Look Sharp!" by JOE JACKSON (2001 A&M 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster) - A Review by Mark Barry...





"...Words Of Wisdom From The World Outside..."

Never has a debut album had such an 'apt' name as "Look Sharp!" Along with Graham Parker, Elvis Costello and Ian Dury - Staffordshire's Joe Jackson was part of England's Punk and 'New Wave' explosion in the late Seventies. With razor precision - the 24-year- old's tunes were both catchy and relevant - cool bopping little slices of intelligence. 

Like his compatriots in musical crime - David Ian Jackson was part of that emerging breed of songwriters who saved us from Rock's tired and bloated last gasps with angry-young-man vignettes - hard-hitting but truthful songs that had one eye on the dancehall and the other on the social pulse of the time (as well as last orders at the bar).

It's a measure of "Look Sharp!" and the lasting impact it had when you know that 5 of its 11 tracks regularly feature on "Gold" 2CD anthologies to this day - still leaving album winners like "One More Time", "Happy Loving Couples" and "Look Sharp!" for the devoted to rediscover. Hell even Mod Revivalists and Dancers have loved its bopping charms for decades now and coveted those original A&M Records vinyl LPs - Euro Soul Boys picking up a copy on their visits to Blighty. And this fantastic 2001 Remaster from Universal's top man ERICK LABSON has only made me love it all over again. Here are the white boy's winklepickers...

US released 14 August 2001 (imported into the UK) - "Look Sharp!" by JOE JACKSON on A&M 314 586 194-2 (Barcode 731458619420) is an 'Expanded Edition' CD Remaster with Two Bonus Tracks and plays out as follows (42:55 minutes):

1. One More Time
2. Sunday Papers
3. Is She Really Going Out With Him?
4. Happy Loving Couples
5. Throw It Away
6. Baby Stick Around
7. Look Sharp!
8. Fools In Love
9. (Do The) Instant Mash
10. Pretty Girls
11. Got The Time
Tracks 1 to 11 are his debut album "Look Sharp!" - released January 1979 in the UK on A&M Records AMLH 64743 and April 1979 in the USA on A&M Records SP 4743. Produced by DAVID KERSHENBAUM – it peaked at No. 40 in the UK and No. 20 in the USA.

BONUS TRACKS:
12. Don't Ask Me - non-album B-side to "One More Time" released May 1979 in the UK on A&M Records AMS 7433
13. You Got The Fever - non-album B-side to the reissue of "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" released July 1979 in the UK on A&M Records AMS 7459. "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" was his debut solo 45 in the UK released September 1978 on A&M Records AMS 7392 with the album cut "(Do The) Instant Mash" as its flipside.

The 12-page booklet is a concise but pleasing affair. SCOTT SCHINDER provides two pages of informative and affection liner notes - you get lyrics to all the songs including the two album outtakes that turned up as B-sides ("Don't Ask Me" and "You Got The Fever") including four A&M trade adverts for the singles and album. The back of the booklet and the photo beneath the see-through CD tray have our Joe trying to look sharp at the camera but actually looking a bit of place and confused (too much pressure man). But all of that pales against the 96K/24-Bit Remaster from one of Universal's Top Audio Engineer's - ERICK LABSON. Having handled The Who, Three Dog Night, The Mama's and The Papa's, Wishbone Ash, Buddy Holly and almost everything on the mammoth Chess label of artists - Labson is an Engineer with over 1200 audio restoration credits to his name. Always a punchy album - here its leaps back to life - real muscle without being overly trebled.

It opens on the choppy guitars of "One More Time" and instantly this is 'not' Rock but something sharper. The UK issued it as a 45 in May 1979 with the non-album "Don't Ask Me" on the flipside - featured on this CD as one of the Bonus Tracks. I absolutely flip for the Reggae-Rock of "Sunday Papers" (so Police first album) where words of wisdom from the world outside tell us about 'stains on the mattress' and the deal between 'the bishop and actress'. The single "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" broke him in both countries - in the USA first in May 1979 (No. 21) and July 1979 in the UK (No.13). If you wanted proof of 'sharp' audio then "Happy Loving Couples" is the cheesecake - absolutely amazing clarity and what clever lyrics - self-knowing and yet with that hint of loneliness and hurt. "Throw It Away" is about as Punk as the album gets - Gary Sandford letting rip on the guitar while Graham Maby slaps those heavy bass strings.

"Look Sharp!" is genius - a fantastically hooky song with 'no illusions' lyrics. It also features a very distinctive Joe Jackson piano-break that would practically redefine his sound for his "Night And Day" LP in 1982 and the "Body And Soul" album from 1984. "Fools In Love" is a vicious little sucker dressed up in a huge Bass Line while Sandford does his best Andy Summers on a Reggae tip impression. Bit of a Rock boogie comes in the shape of "(Do The) Instant Mash" - a great tune but one that sounds slightly out of place alongside the other later tracks. Mini-skirt frustration runs through the brill and infectious "Pretty Girls" where our Joe implores God to turn off his rampant libido (the loose clothing of women's liberation is doing his nut in). It ends on the Bass Race of "Got The Time" - another rapid-paced Rocker that killed whenever it was featured 'live'. The album outtakes used as B-sides are both superb and round off the CD with brilliance (I love that flicking guitar on “You Got The Fever” and the hooky Harmonica solo towards the end). I can imagine a Mod doing his stuff to this on any talcum-powered dancefloor...as Joe sings "...the girls at work are married...the girls in bars are waiting for their friend or their new fiancĂ©e..." (oh dear).

I could never understand why neither this nor the follow-up LP "I'm The Man" from 1980 ever received CD release proper back here in his own UK - both of the August 2001 Erick Labson CD remasters remain US imports to British buyers (it’s cheap though even as an import). But what I do know is that "Look Sharp!" needs to be looking sharp on your CD shelves someday soon...

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