Revisiting my extensive music collection, one artist at a time
[Welcome to Thirty Year Thursday, the weekly series on my favorite albums of 1986]
Artist: JOE JACKSON
Album: BIG WORLD
Big World isn’t just one of the musical highlights of 1986 for me, it’s probably my favorite Joe Jackson album, and considering his music has been such an important part of my life for more than 35 years you’ll understand why I consider it an all-time classic. His seventh studio album (not counting a 1983 film soundtrack) wasn’t recorded in a studio, but is actually a collection of 15 brand-new songs captured in front of a live audience (that was asked to remain silent during each performance) at New York’s Roundabout Theatre. The digital recording represents exactly what was performed with no additional mixing or overdubs, making it one of the least ‘80s-sounding records of that decade. His intention was to combine the spontaneity of a live performance with the clarity & precision of a studio recording, but none of this technical detail would mean anything if he didn’t come up with a strong batch of songs. Fortunately he was still at a creative peak, so although it doesn’t include any of his best-known songs (“Right And Wrong” was a minor FM radio hit) it’s stacked from top-to-bottom with great tunes.
Much of the material has a cosmopolitan vibe, most notably on “Shanghai Sky,” “Tango Atlantico,” the World War II remembrance of “40 Years” and the exquisite “Fifty Dollar Love Affair.” However, the energetic new wave energy of his earlier recordings was still evident on tracks like “Precious Time” and “Survival,” the latter featuring these deceptively uplifting lyrics:
“Life’s a bitch and then you die,
Nothing you can do about it.
Anything you steal or buy,
You’re gonna be leaving here without it”
Other highlights include album opener “Wild West,” the funky “Soul Kiss,” the Middle Eastern-tinged “(It’s A) Big World” and his sentimental ode to growing up in Portsmouth, England, “Home Town,” which might be the most beautiful song in his entire discography. The musicians on this record (guitarist Vinnie Zummo, bassist Rick Ford and drummer Gary Burke) deserve special mention, always playing exactly what the song calls for while subtly showcasing their distinct talents. Zummo is an especially tasteful player, and prior to joining Joe Jackson for 1984’s Body And Soul he taught guitar to two of my high school friends/bandmates. It was fun for us to see someone we knew (even though I never met Mr. Zummo) playing in the big leagues. I’m trying to keep these Thirty Year Thursday posts to a single paragraph but I couldn’t resist sharing my enthusiasm for an album that has amazed and inspired me for three decades. I hope you enjoy it as much as I do. Here are a few samples, but I highly recommend buying the CD or the 3-sided LP.
For another perspective on Big World, check out Wardo’s review here: