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Look Sharp!

An album by Joe Jackson

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Clever lyrics, catchy tunes

  • Oct 4, 2010
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Look Sharp! contains some of the cleverest songs from the 1970s, one of which was a huge radio hit. Jackson emerged just as Elvis Costello and Graham Parker did, both incredibly clever and caustic songwriters in their own right, and the three quickly became known as the angry young men of the rock scene. Some people today label and group them with punk, but that disregards that all three were accomplished musicians, Joe Jackson most of all, as he had even studied music at university. What more they did have in common was spending the 70s touring England's pub scene, and if one had to specify a subgenre for them, pub-rock would do in a pinch, along with Brinsley Schwarz, Nick Lowe, Dave Edmunds, and the too short-lived Rockpile. The hit, which overshadows the album and Jackson's entire career until he hit big again with Night and Day, is of course "Is She Really Going Out With Him?" It unfortunately suffers from two things: it has been overplayed by classic rock radio everywhere and, while very clever, it is a bit of an extended joke where the punchline loses its impact with repetition. The music, with it's simple bass'n'drums loping verse and full band chorus, stays fresh, as does Jackson's sneer-cum-whine vocal delivery (especially in the classic insult line, "they say that looks don't count for much and there goes your proof"). The other thing that strikes me upon listening to it for yet another time is how clean the recording is--in fact this entire record is a prime example of how giving the instruments quietness around them emphasizes them so much better than just turning everything up to ten as they do nowadays. That said, there are exceptions. "Throw It Away" and "(Do the) Instant Mash" are as close as this album gets to punk and both fill the channel with some pretty high octane playing. Take the hit away and this still would have been a great album. None of the songs is a clunker that begs for the skip button. Several of them are all-time favorites of mine. "Fools in Love" is really a companion piece to the hit, and holds up better with time for me. It has the same loping, near reggae feeling, verse and big bold chorus with more vitriolic vocals. It is also somewhat creepy. In this, as well as in "Pretty Girls," Jackson seems to have a problem with this whole dating/love business--an honest portrait of the conflicting emotions that surround a 20-or-so-year-old. What's most surprising, however, given Jackson's later career and claim-to-fame as one if the few rock pianists (can you name more than five? Jerry Lee Lewis, Elton John, Billy Joel, Bruce Hornsby, and Ben Folds. I know more, but most of them are in bands rather than solo artists, and I play piano, so it's something of interest to me) is the relative absence of piano on this recording. It's there, but definitely not as a main instrument--almost as if Jackson had a problem playing and singing at the same time when this was recorded since when you notice the piano it's in the solos. This is my favorite Jackson album, but only because every song here is a winner. I actually prefer to listen these days to Jumpin' Jive or Beat Crazy, neither of which did very well for him when they were released.

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About the reviewer
Glen Engel-Cox ()
Ranked #321
Glen is a forty-something communications professional living near Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia. He grew up in Texas and has also lived inLos Angeles, Colorado, Washington State, and Washington, DC. Glen also … more
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