For years, Joe Jackson’s albums have been characterized by bombastic arrangements as much as they have with the witty rejoinders that nearly pigeonholed Jackson as the Angry Young Man pub rocker type in the 1970s. Nowadays, you’re more often to hear critics link Jackson with George Gershwin or Cole Porter than with Elvis Costello, due largely to his experimentally classicist approach to songcraft on near-masterpieces like Night and Day and such intriguing flubs as Symphony No. 1. But the only instrumentation on Jackson’s new album, Rain, comes from bass, drums, and his Hornsby-esque piano playing. Fans expecting a return to the rock flair of Look Sharp! will be disappointed—especially since Rain features Look Sharp!-era bandmates Graham Maby and Dave Houghton—as Rain is rooted more in the sophisti-pop of Night and Day than the pseudo-punk of Look Sharp! or I’m the Man. Then again, you’re about as likely to find a Rolling Stones fan hankering for a return to December’s Children (And Everybody’s) as you are a Jackson fan expecting a new Look Sharp!, so probably no one will find Rain disappointing in the least. It’s a terrific set of songs that I would hesitantly describe as “adult contemporary,” with pleasant but extremely complex melodies and some of the most impressive vocals of Jackson’s career (his performance is doubly impressive considering his fame as a smokers’ rights advocate). Though there are a number of the cartoonish character studies that garnered the Angry Young Man distinction, namely “Citizen Sane” and “King Pleasure Time,” Rain‘s finest moments are introspective, like on the lonesome, Steely Dan-like opener “Invisible Man” and the bizarrely optimistic closer “A Place in the Rain.” The nicest surprise is how good the guy’s become at writing love songs: The winsome “Too Tough” is the best song here. Like with the rest of the album, it’s a joy to deconstruct the song’s craft (woah! Nice interlude!), but more of one just to listen.
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