Monday, January 26, 2009

Disco Delivery #59:
Slick (1979, WMOT/Fantasy)



Slick - Space Bass
Slick - Feelin' Good
Slick - Sexy Cream (The Massage Song)
Slick - Sexy Cream (feat. Doris James) (12'' Version)
Slick - Put Your Pants On
Slick - The Whole World's Dancin'


Released on Philadelphia's ill-fated WMOT label in the brief period when they were Fantasy's Philly outpost; looking at the credits, Slick, at least on this, their first album, was essentially a studio meeting between members of both Ingram and Fat Larry's Band.

Largely produced by Butch Ingram (AKA Norman 'Butch' Ingram) who had also produced the likes of Philly Cream, Ronnie Dyson, Blue Magic and not to mention Barbara Mason's "Another Man" among other things, this album was something of a family affair with pretty much all of the Ingram brothers in the credits. Aside from Butch as producer and bass player, brothers Jimmy (keys/synths) and Billy (guitars) got the bulk of arrangement credits, along with Timmy Ingram on percussion, John Ingram on drums, as well as sister Barbara and her ubiquitous trio, often known as The Sweethearts of Sigma on background vocals. Along with Fat Larry's Band musicians Anthony Middleton (guitars) and Larry LaBes (bass), 'Fat' Larry James himself along with his wife Doris James also had prominent credits on the album along with one time blue-eyed soul singer Len Barry, best known for his 1965 Motown-esque hit "1-2-3" who was still in the business, albeit mostly behind the scenes by this time.

Personally speaking, I must have been around fifteen the first time I had heard of Slick, back in the days of the original Napster. In the program's search field I would sometimes type in something vague and innocuous like 'disco' or some variant of it, just to see if anything interesting would come up. One of the best tracks I had discovered that way was the second single off of this album, "Sexy Cream." Immediately piquing my curiosity when it came up; with a title like that, I just had to hear it. And I definitely wasn't disappointed when I did. Musically, it had everything I loved - a propulsive beat, deep popping, pounding synthesized bass, augmented by a coloring of strings and hefty horns in particular; it was one of those late disco, high-energy tracks which like nothing else, seamlessly combined traditional instrumentation with tempo and technology.

On top of that of course, were the vocals and lyrics, which made this possibly the naughtiest, borderline x-rated disco track I had heard up until then. Featuring 'Fat' Larry James' wife Doris James on vocals, free of the sort of simulation displayed on tracks like "Love To Love You Baby," the Tee Cees' "Disco Love Bite" or Musique's "Good And Plenty Lover," her breathy, willowy vocals still had an undeniable sexiness to them. If one didn't know better, one might think Andrea True, Marilyn Chambers or some other moonlighting porn actress was behind the vocals, which for a track like this, is the highest compliment I could possibly pay.. With lyrics like "gimme, gimme some of that sexy cream, you know what I mean.." and other lines like "..that sweet sexy stuff, it always blows my mind.. it makes me feel so real.." delivered with a wink and touch of 'give it to me' desperation, the track came across (no pun intended) less like the massage theme they may have originally intended, and more like some kind of debaucherous disco ode to the joys of bukkake instead.

That said, it's perhaps no wonder why "Sexy Cream" was banned in the UK by BBC Radio 1. It was perhaps that which led to it being subtitled 'The Massage Song' on the LP (the subtitle printed only on the label, not on the back cover tracklist curiously enough) in an attempt to perhaps extinguish some of the controversy. While, at least for me, the massage themes in the song became somewhat clearer after getting the LP, it seems more of a not-quite multiplied single entendre than a genuine case of misunderstood intentions. Even if it were, I highly doubt that there are body lotions or massage oils around with the sort of intense mind blowing qualities that Doris James' vocals constantly allude to.. Between the suggestion of the album's cover shot and the sequencing on the album, with "Sexy Cream" followed by "Put Your Pants On" - a brief, sassy lousy lover lament that Vanity 6 could have easily pulled off had they been around, it's context doesn't exactly serve to diminish anyone's first impressions either.

Interestingly, "Sexy Cream" is another one of those cases where the LP version is actually slightly longer than the 12'' version, however, the 12'' mix is much harder-hitting and streamlined. The piano and guitar fill-ins ever present on the LP version, are turned way down on the 12'' making things a little deeper and darker, the sexual intensity of the track coming across much more forcefully, with the synths, drums, strings and horns getting more space in the mix. In a notable west coast connection, both the LP and 12'' versions were mixed by John Hedges and Marty Blecman, both of whom were doing quite a bit of production and mixing for the likes of Sylvester and others on the Fantasy label(s) at the time. Blecman and Hedges would of course would go on to be quite influential with the San Francisco Hi-NRG sound, and the Megatone label in particular.

That aside however, the best known track on the album would have to be the opener, "Space Bass." Written by Doris and Larry James with Len Barry, it's seems obvious that this was the track which helmed the whole Slick project, given that it was not only the first single, but the only track on the album whose credits noticeably differed from the others. While Butch Ingram had produced the rest of the album, the producton on "Space Bass" was credited to a consortium of sorts - Len Barry, Larry James along with WMOT principals Alan Rubens and Steve Bernstein also taking credit.

Musically, it's perhaps one of the most stunning, forward-looking tracks to come out of Philly at this time. A stunning, 7 minute space-age disco odyssey, filled with trumpets and laser beams, backed by a cavalcade of wondrous, swelling strings, and an allmost jazzy bassline that just doesn't quit, I'd imagine it would have been enough to send a number of drug induced disco dancers into a frenzy in it's day. With The Sweethearts on lead vocals (which might make this one of the most futuristic records they ever took part in), Space Bass is, in my opinion, quite possibly one of the best non-library 'space disco' tracks around, having combined an epic, cinematic quality with just the right amount of rhythm, tempo and bass to make it translate on a dancefloor. Surprisingly, despite not charting in the US (at least according to the Billboard Disco Charts book), "Space Bass" was not only a club hit in the UK, but had even become a top 40 pop hit, peaking at #16 in July '79.

As far as the rest of the album goes, nothing else on it quite tops or approaches the excellence of "Space Bass" or "Sexy Cream." The only one which comes close would probably be "Feelin' Good." Opening with an epic intro which gives one the impression that "Space Bass, Pt. 2" was on the horizon, it doesn't quite follow through with the intro quickly giving way to what is, barring Barbara Ingram's great vocal and the break two thirds of the way in, a fairly insubstantial, albeit pleasant disco track.

A saccharine shock after the heavy romp that was Sexy Cream/Put Your Pants On, what doesn't come close in any way whatsoever is the album's closer "The Whole World's Dancin'." A piece of mandolin-laced 'disco is taking over the world' filler fromage, it's the one track on here that's perhaps best forgotten.

There was one more Slick LP which followed this one, entitled "Go For It" (1980, WMOT/Fantasy), where they evidently tried to re-engineer the project as a more conventional female R&B group (which included the late Brandi Wells as a member). Although yielding something of a mellow soul classic in a track called "Sunrise," nothing on there quite had the same impact as the singles off this LP. Filler tracks on this album notwithstanding, the two singles which helmed this record, with their flawless combination of musicianship, rhythmic intensity and technology, rank, at least in my mind, as some of the best examples of the heavier, energetic disco of this time..

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
DISCO DELIVERY #12: DAMON HARRIS - SILK (1978, WMOT/FANTASY) (FRIDAY MARCH 24, 2008)

LINKS:
SLICK LP @ DISCOGS
SLICK LP @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
SLICK - SPACE BASS 12'' @ DISCOGS
SLICK FEAT. DORIS JAMES - SEXY CREAM 12'' @ DISCOGS
UK CHART ARCHIVE - JULY 14, 1979 (PDF FILE)
BUTCH INGRAM @ DISCOGS
FAT LARRY'S BAND @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
LEN BARRY @ WIKIPEDIA
JOHN HEDGES INTERVIEW @ DJS PORTAL
JOHN HEDGES @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
JOHN HEDGES @ DISCOGS
MARTY BLECMAN @ DISCOGS

CATEGORIES: DISCO DELIVERIES

Monday, January 19, 2009

Disco Delivery #58:
Nile Rodgers - Adventures In The Land Of The Good Groove (1983, Mirage/Atlantic)



Nile Rodgers - Yum-Yum
Nile Rodgers - Beet
Nile Rodgers - Rock Bottom
Nile Rodgers - My Love Song For You (with Sarah Dash)
Nile Rodgers - Yum-Yum (12'' Version)

Just a note to begin: Halfway through this, I realized that: 1. This album will (finally!) be reissued on CD on the 21st of this month, so I'm only putting up a few of the songs and 2. I had accidentally saved my mp3s in 128 kbps, and didn't back them up (due to #1, since I'd ordinarily burn them to CD), so my apologies to those who care about bit rates and all. Anyway due to all that, this'll be a somewhat limited disco delivery installment, as far as songs go..

Released between Chic albums in 1983, on former Atlantic Records President Jerry Greenberg's Mirage label, a company which released many a post-disco dance classic in the early 80's; out of all the solo albums that Nile & Bernard did, I'd have to say this one is my absolute favourite. Perhaps because out of all of them, this one's the closest to the Chic sound of the time; after all, aside from Nile of course and notable outside guests like Sarah Dash and Rachel Sweet, Chic colleagues Bernard Edwards and Tony Thompson both appear on the album along with other Chic regulars like Rob Sabino, Raymond Jones and Fonzi Thornton.

That being said however, "..Land Of The Good Groove" is definitely more than just a Chic album under a different name. Aside from the fact that Nile himself took sole writing credit on all of the songs and takes on the bulk of the musical credits, there's a looseness to the groove on here, a playful eclecticism and sense of humour that not only echoes elements of the Chic sound, but drops hints at New Wave, Rock and straight-ahead pop in a way that none of the Chic albums of the time really did.

For one thing, It's probably highly unlikely that Nile himself, or any of them would have been able to get away with such odes to pussy as "Yum-Yum" and "Get Her Crazy" on a Chic album, particularly the former which contains what has to be some of Nile's most infamous lyrics: "poontang, poontang, where you want it..slept all night with my hands on it.. gimme some of that yum-yum before I sleep tonight..." I suppose it was lines like those which led The Trouser Press to remark that "Nile proves he can make a fair-to-middling one-man Chic (no mean feat), but a visionary he's not - unless you define vision as smug sexism" going on to describe "Yum-Yum" as "the album's most offensive meditation on the desirability of 'poontang'."

While on paper, it may seem to veer into the edge of Rick James territory, both tracks have an almost juvenile, cutesy, playful quality to them that makes up the difference. I suppose recording the intro in a schoolyard and getting Rachel Sweet to chime in (check the end of "Get Her Crazy") probably didn't hurt, since no matter how many times he says 'poontang,' "Yum-Yum," in all it's jingliness still ends up sounding less "Super Freak" and more nursery rhyme than anything else.

While I'm not sure if Bernard's even in the song (he was probably replaced by a synth), between a lyric like that and Nile's inimitable choppy guitar stylings as the centrepiece, the groove actually ends up sitting alongside even some of Chic's better efforts at the time.. The 12'' version is unfortunately not centered so much around Nile's guitar, being only slightly longer and a bit more synth-heavy than the album version, but still entirely worth it just for the solo after the four minute mark.

Continuing with the playful theme, "Beet," appropriately anchored by Tony Thompson's rhythmic precision, is another favourite of mine on here. Described in Rolling Stone's album review as "a sparse dance-and-roll" number, it can probably be divided in two parts; the first being a perky call-and-response ditty extolling the virtues of 'the beat' with some rather amusing lyrics "..the beat can make policemen dance (no ticket! no ticket! no..) and boy they're wicked when they dance (no ticket! no ticket! no..).." with the second half, barring the occasional filler vocal, being an instrumental which Nile and Tony largely get to themselves.

On Side Two, the second track, "Rock Bottom," would probably be my candidate for the best song on the album, or at least the one which the best guitar work. Opening with and never letting go of one of the more devastating, infectious guitar licks Nile must have had at the time (imagine the possiblities, had it been saved for a Chic record), it's probably the catchiest song to ever have a refrain with the lyrics "I've hit rock bottom." Best of all, of all the songs on the album, Bernard's buoyant basslines get an ample spotlight on this track, rising to the top of the mix by the second half of the song, right alongside Nile's rock guitar tangents.

Much less treacly than the title makes it seem, the lone ballad on the album "My Love Song For You" is another highlight on the album. Sarah Dash duets with Nile on this one, and her angelic voice (along with the airy production on the background harmonies) pretty much makes this song, in what must be one of her finest post-Labelle moments. While Chic's approach in the studio, their stressing of spontenaity may have left some of their ballads sounding like lagging afterthoughts at times, they definitely did get better with time, in my opinion. This one, capturing a sweetness and sincerity that ranks up there with the finest of Chic's balladry (see "You Can't Do It Alone"), makes this song in particular, feel like the best ballad Chic never recorded.

Music aside, the pig-latinized map of Manhattan on the album cover by illustrator Robert Van Nutt (whose evidently become a fairly prolific illustrator of children's books) is one of my favourite things about the album. One of those things best admired in it's full 12'' glory; some of the placements on the map, namely New Jersey (Nova Joysea) and Brooklyn (Terra Incognita) are good for a little chuckle..

Although overshadowed by Chic and David Bowie's "Let's Dance" which Nile had produced, evidently Bowie himself thought quite highly of the album. In his book, "Everybody Dance: Chic & The Politics of Disco", Daryl Easlea relates a quote from Nile on how this album basically led to Nile's Bowie collaboration.
...what cinched the deal for Bowie was Rodgers' own recorded work, especially his first newly-finished solo album; "I think that must have come from him meeting me that first night. Him feeling my spirit and energy - and then I played my solo record for him, which is what sealed the deal. I played him 'Adventures In The Land Of The Good Groove.' I'll never forget it, he was in my apartment and he said to me after it had finished playing 'if you do for me a record half as good as that, I will be very happy."
In reading the comments from Rob Sabino and Tony Thompson in Daryl Easlea's book, the clash between Nile's thirst for the cutting edge (ie. the use drum machines) and Bernard Edwards' more traditionalist approach was apparently one of the main irritants within Chic at the time. It's probably why on this album, free of some of the tensions within the fold, that the marriage between the well-honed Chic rhythm section and the additional synthesized elements sounds and feels much more comfortable on here (the title track on here being a prime example) than it did on even Chic's "Believer" (1983, Atlantic) LP, which followed in the same year. Out of all the records he was involved with at the time, this album is perhaps the one record which manages to occupy the perfect middle-ground between Nile Rodgers of Chic and Nile Rodgers the 1980's super-producer, capturing the best of both - the essential simplicity of the Chic sound, at the same time highlighting his own individual style in a way that was eclectic without being excessive.

Although even the high points of Chic's 1980's output continue to be relatively underrated, this album is perhaps one of the most. Evidently not one of the more well-known (or at least well-acknowledged) Chic-associated efforts, in fact it's the only one out of the Chic solo albums that hasn't (at least until now) seen a CD release, "Adventures.." still remains one of the hidden jewels in Chic's associated output.

A note about the reissue: The small reissue label Funky Town Grooves is set to reissue this album on CD January 21st, with the 12'' versions of "The Land Of The Good Groove" (which I didn't even know existed) and "Yum-Yum" to be added as bonus tracks. Aside from some of the other Mirage Records releases that Funky Town Grooves has reissued on CD lately, in other Chic-related news, Funky Town Grooves is also set to release (also on January 21st) a Mirage Records compilation, entitled the "Mirage Records Soul & Funk Collection, Vol. 1" which is set to include the highly sought-after 12" version of Carly Simon's Chic-produced single "Why." According to a posting on the discomusic.com forums by one of their representatives, noted remixer John Morales will be mastering both the Nile Rodgers reissue and the Mirage compilation.

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
FIREST WE SHAKE, THEN WE BREAK.. (SATURDAY NOVEMBER 15, 2008)
CHIC & JOHNNY MATHIS COLLABORATIONS TO FINALLY BE RELEASED? (TUESDAY NOVEMBER 11, 2008)
UPCOMING SISTER SLEDGE REISSUES (FRIDAY AUGUST 10, 2007)
BBC RADIO 2 - THE RECORD PRODUCERS: NILE RODGERS (SATURDAY JANUARY 6, 2007)
UPCOMING REISSUES & RELEASES (CHIC AND MORE!): (DECEMBER 1, 2006 - JANUARY 22, 2007) (SATURDAY NOVEMBER 25, 2006)
UPCOMING REISSUES & RELEASES (APRIL 25 - MAY 30) (FRIDAY APRIL 21, 2006)
DISCO DELIVERY #2: NORMA JEAN WRIGHT - NORMA JEAN (1978, BEARSVILLE) (SATURDAY JANUARY 14, 2006)

PURCHASE:
NILE RODGERS - ADVENTURES IN THE LAND OF THE GOOD GROOVE (CD)
FUNKY TOWN GROOVES

LINKS:
THE GUARDIAN - MUSIC: THE GREATEST ALBUMS YOU'VE NEVER HEARD (FRIDAY NOVEMBER 3, 2006)
NILE RODGERS - ADVENTURES IN THE LAND OF THE GOOD GROOVE LP (REVIEW) @ ALL MUSIC GUIDE
NILE RODGERS - ADVENTURES IN THE LAND OF THE GOOD GROOVE LP (REVIEW) @ ROBERT CHRISTGAU
NILE RODGERS - ADVENTURES IN THE LAND OF THE GOOD GROOVE LP @ DISCOMUSIC.COM
NILE RODGERS - ADVENTURES IN THE LAND OF THE GOOD GROOVE LP @ DISCOGS
NILE RODGERS - ADVENTURES IN THE LAND OF THE GOOD GROOVE LP @ CHIC TRIBUTE
TROUSER PRESS - NILE RODGERS
STRANGE MAPS: 344 - ADVENTURES IN THE LAND OF THE GOOD GROOVE (DECEMBER 11, 2008)

CATEGORIES: DISCO DELIVERIES, REISSUES & RELEASES, DISCO NEWS

Thursday, January 15, 2009

Disco Delivery turns three!


Which is what? Twenty or so in blog years? Anyway, I admit 2008 was a bit of a slow year on here, but it's still hard to believe this thing has been going now for three (!) years (well, three years and six days to be exact). With that in mind, I thought I might as well take this time to put up some re-uploads that people have requested recently.


First up is the Grand Tour - On Such A Winter's Day (1977, Butterfly) LP (Disco Delivery #49) that I've probably had the most requests for (I wonder if it's the weather..). If it weren't for my preoccupations and procrastinations, it's probably one that I would have done up at around Christmas time. It's still very much winter around here though, so now seems as good a time as any for this one.



Next up is the Cut Glass post from April 2007. Brought to you by the same producers behind the awesome Hott City project, the two tracks on that single - "Without Your Love" and "Alive With Love" have to be among some of the most sublime, soulful electronic late disco tracks out there. And that's not even counting the Hot Tracks Remix of the former, which was so amazing that when I first heard it, I thought my head would explode. (It's that good, people).. Not too hard to believe, looking back at the entry. In retrospect, I think I went just a teeny little bit overboard with that write-up. Depending on whether I have the time or the willingness, it's one that's due for a little editing.


Third and last (for now) is an upload for one of the more obscure 12'' singles I've posted on here; "Mutual Physical Attraction" by the little-known Quebecois disco diva, Eve John. It turns out that when I had bought the original 12'', I had inadvertently been cheated out of the original cover (not that I was complaining about the coked up disco lady on the generic sleeve that I did get). I had only realized this recently, when I had stumbled across a copy of the original sleeve (with the wrong record inside, no less) while diving through the records at my favourite local record haunt. I guess someone must have done some shuffling at the record store..

Also, just in time for DD's third birthday - my first actual blog award (yay!). Major thanks to Mike of the divine, often irreverent but always witty and hilarious Pop Trash Addicts, which is undoubtedly one of my regular blog pleasures (no guilt here!). Where else can one indulge in the latest in Aussie and UK pop divas along with the latest from Carol Jiani, Amanda Lear, LaToya Jackson and middle aged Spanish girl group Las Supremes de Mostoles and take pleasure in some unparalleled Photoshop artistry all in one place? Let me just say that I'm honoured to be in the presence of such blog fabulosity! I'm truly flattered. Thanks again, Mike! xo

To conclude things, a humble plea from yours truly.. At the end of this past November, my long suffering, overloaded computer finally got it's revenge and crashed on me. I kind of saw it coming, though not soon enough to back up all the stuff I really wanted to save. Regardless, it's done now, the new PC has ample space for more disco and other things.. However, I lost a couple of things that were, as far as audio files go, quite dear to me, namely the Nile Rodgers' BBC Record Producers episode that I had posted January 2007 and the I Feel Love - Classic Singles interview with Giorgio Moroder posted December 30, 2007. If anyone out there who had downloaded either of them still has the audio and is able or willing to send me a copy of either file, I would be eternally grateful!

Thanks for another year everyone!

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
DISCO DELIVERY #49: GRAND TOUR - ON SUCH A WINTER'S DAY (1977, BUTTERFLY/RCA) (FRIDAY DECEMBER 21, 2007)
DEEP CUTS (WEDNESDAY APRIL 18, 2007)
ONE YEAR, ONE MONTH AND ELEVEN DAYS OF DISCO DELIVERY (WEDNESDAY FEBRUARY 21, 2007)
MUTUAL...PHYSICAL...ATTRACTION... (FRIDAY DECEMBER 01, 2006)

CATEGORIES: RE-DELIVERIES, MISCELLANEOUS

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

Strange Weather - The Tumultuous Re-Emergence of Grace Jones (Part Two)



Read Part One...

Piecing things together from some of her recent interviews, frustrated with the apparent fruitlessness of her recording endeavours, she claims to have pretty much left the studio completely during the first few years of the decade, with little interest or plan in returning. That would eventually change upon meeting producer/ film composer and British aristocrat, Ivor Guest. She described the meeting in an interview in the Autumn '08 issue of Pop Magazine:
Guest is British Blue blood, the Fourth Viscount Wimborne, and has worked most famously as a film composer. He was introduced to Jones by Philip Treacy, the British milliner whom Jean Paul Goude had suggested as a potential new art director for the corporate engagements and one-off gigs that were keeping her financially afloat in the fallow recording years.
“He came to Philip’s one evening when I was in [London] town. At the time, of course, I didn't want to do music. I had stopped. I think Philip had told Ivor ‘You can come over, but just have dinner and be social and do not talk about music.’ Then the second time he had brought me a track. It just suddenly got very inspiring. Then I went back and looked at the tracks I was doing before. It started this whole chemistry...

In 2003 it was reported that Guest and Grace were not only a creative team, but reportedly engaged, with the unconventional prospect of Viscountess Grace setting tongues wagging in the British gossip press. What wasn’t quite as widely reported on the musical side was a reunion with Sly & Robbie at Scotland's Tryptich Festival that year in what was billed as a 'comeback performance,' foreshadowing their eventual reunion on record. As well there was also Grace and Ivor's budding creative collaboration, of which the first low-key reports came in 2004 from arranger Philip Sheppard’s website, where he reported working on string sessions for a forthcoming Grace Jones record (which later became the track “Devil In My Life”).. Despite having no apparent record label commitment, in the time between then and the eventual album release, the only major updates seemed to come via Ivor Guest's Myspace and Grace’s Wikipedia page, which was continuously updated with details of the forthcoming record, and disseminated by fans..

Initially titled “Corporate Cannibal,” judging from articles and Wikipedia updates, the album was reported to have been completed along with director Nick Hooker’s video for the then title track in early 2007, with Ivor & Ant Genn as producer, contributions from Guest collaborator and electronic music prodigy Robert Logan and even Brian Eno (who is credited as a production consultant) cited as prime collaborators. The first tangible, though tentative hints of the results came later that year in May, where the first track from the project leaked out. The tracks, two versions of a track called “This” and another called “Volunteer” were previewed on the blog of Leslie Winer, a musician/poet and former model, who has been referred to as the “godmother of trip-hop.” The second leaked version of “This” would prove to the the final version, eventually released on “Hurricane” as “This Is..” however, the remix and the other track, “Volunteer” were suspected to have come from from the shelved “Black Marilyn” project. In her blog entry, Winer claims she and a friend, Joe Galdo (formerly of the disco group Foxy, curiously) had originally written the song, but had apparently been stiffed of credit on Grace's version, in what she called a 'publishing grab.'

Leaks aside, another low-key preview of the upcoming album happened earlier that same month, on her birthday, no less. On May 19th, Grace made a surprise appearance with her son Paulo at the small Sonic Boom Electronic & Experimental Arts Festival in Coventry in support of one of one of her and Guest's main collaborators, Robert Logan. She joined him onstage for a performance of “Nightclubbing,” which, especially in retrospect, seemed to drop a few hints on the sound of the upcoming album. The surprise performance was captured for posterity and posted to YouTube months later:



Grace Jones live with Robert Logan on her birthday
Uploaded by simonhayden

The same year, she made a brief appearance at the 2007 Meltdown Festival (curated that year by Jarvis Cocker), in what one writer called one of the festival's “golden moments” as part of Hal Willner's revue of the Disney Songbook. It wasn't until over a year later, this past June, when Grace was brought back; this time as a headliner, with a full show and a full band, showcasing her hits and forthcoming material, and effectively stealing the show at 2008's Meltdown (curated by Massive Attack), that the return of Grace Jones felt, at long last, real and imminent.



Grace Jones @ Meltdown (18 June 2008): I've Seen That Face Before
Uploaded by boris99gj

Reportedly starting her set some 30 minutes late (which seems quite punctual for Grace), the forthcoming reviews were universally positive, many practically gushing forth with what seemed like long withheld praise. It wasn't long after that the video of Corporate Cannibal, initially captured on digital video by festival goers, proceeded to go viral on the blogosphere, amid the news of her signing with indie label Wall of Sound. With the album having been wisely re-titled “Hurricane,” a title much more worthy of her iconic status, the album, four years in the making, and 19 years in the waiting, finally saw it’s release at the start of November, some five months later.

Opening with an incisive, bold declaration: “this is my voice, my weapon of choice” on “This Is..”, between the record’s darkness and light, compared to the stylistic exercises of her earlier work, the themes on the album are both loftier and more personal, making “Hurricane” as perhaps her most complete statement on record thus far.

The timely lead single “Corporate Cannibal” makes the perfect foil for Grace’s intimidating, predatory persona in conveying it's lyrical indictment of western corporate culture. The results can perhaps be described as Massive Attack-meets-Naomi Klein, with Grace out front. While, on the surface Grace may not be anyone's idea of an astute socio-political commentator, the widescreen, cinematic production, Nick Hooker’s menacingly minimal visual statement, along with concept of the album's cover art, the chocolate Graces on the production line (which seems to bear the closest connection to this track's theme), combined with Grace’s persona as the vehicle, will likely render this one of Grace's most salient musical statements. A subject she claimed she had long been wanting to write about, partly relating to her own experience with the record conglomerates, she discussed the song in a video interview on Myspace and a print interview with The Telegraph:

Talk of current affairs brings us back to Corporate Cannibal, a song that Jones had been "holding in for a long long time. People hear that line 'I'm a man-eating machine' and they think it's about sex but it's not. It's about a monster, a multinational skyscraper munching people in off the street. Its about the way these corporations chew us all up. And now they're all eating each other. There's a meltdown and we have this economic crisis. But I watch the news and I just think: 'Let the dying die'. None of it was ever real, it was all fantasy money…but then they end up taking the real money from the ordinary people and that makes me angry."

On the more personal side, some of the album’s most sublime, revelatory moments come on both the current single, “Williams Blood” and “I’m Crying (Mother’s Tears),” the latter casting Grace in what must be her most vulnerable role on record. While Grace has never been known as a top purveyor of recorded intimacy, she manages to achieve it here. The former, “Williams Blood,“ - a writing collaboration with Wendy & Lisa that apparently dates back to the early 90‘s is one of the standouts on the album. While the intro with it’s unironic dead-serious recitation of “Amazing Grace” may strike some as veering thisclose to total self-parody, the track quickly redeems itself. An epic, autobiographical reflection on her familial identity and independence, complete with churchy chorus in the back, the song vacillates between vulnerable reflection “..When are you gonna be a Jones, like your sister and your brother Noel,” swiftly rising to a tense rage and release “I’ve got the Williams blood in me!..” Apparently Grace initially intended for "Slave To The Rhythm" super-producer Trevor Horn to helm the track, which unfortunately never came to pass. As it stands here, regardless of it’s limitations (there are moments - cleverly covered by the background choir - where the song seems to go a bit beyond Grace’s vocal range), it’s perhaps most representative of the vibe of the album overall. Opening up the personality, without compromising the persona, it's a brilliantly balanced revelation.

The Grace Jones News fan blog, just announced the release of the official video for "Williams' Blood," which is basically a montage of scenes from her Meltdown Festival performance this past June.


Grace Jones - Williams Blood
Uploaded by miohmy

I have to say, it's a bit of a letdown, given that a video was set to be directed by Chris Cunningham (Madonna, Björk etc..), who had photographed Grace for the November '08 issue of Dazed & Confused, so not sure if that's even still in the works anymore, or if this is a stop-gap measure. In other videos though, there are several live performances of "Williams' Blood" making the rounds on YouTube, including this beautifully staged, and slightly mad performance from Later.. with Jools Holland. It's been posted almost everywhere, but it's just too good to pass up:



Grace Jones - Williams' Blood (live at Later...)
Uploaded by RadioMad

In what was either a curious lapse in judgement, a brilliant bit of viral marketing or perhaps both, shortly after Williams' Blood was announced as a single, a remix by the Belgian duo Aeroplane, upon supposedly being rejected by Grace's camp, quickly went viral on the blogosphere. The resulting outcry evidently convinced the label to officially release it on the 12” release. A stellar mix, retaining the feeling of the original, both it's warmth and intensity, yet shifting it's musical context over a sharp, hypnotic electronic sheen. Of all the officially released mixes, it remains the most effective. While the Aeroplane main mix has made the rounds over the last little while, here's a link to the Aeroplane dub:

Listen: Grace Jones - Williams' Blood (Aeroplane Dub)

Just prior to that, the first mixes to leak were a couple of anonymous mixes – a “Cosmic Jam” and “Electric Dub” released on a bootleg 12” sent out to retailers. It was eventually found out that the versions on the bootleg promo were the rejected Yam Who? remixes. While not quite as excellent as the Aeroplane remix, the Yam Who remixes do a good job of accessibly recasting the track over a more laid-back groove, particularly the more rhythmic Cosmic Jam, which is perhaps my favourite of the two.

Listen: Grace Jones - Williams' Blood (Yam Who? Cosmic Jam)
Listen: Grace Jones - Williams' Blood (Yam Who? Electric Dub)

"Hurricane," the album's title track is, quite appropriately, the album’s centrepiece of iconography. Reinforcing and drawing upon Grace Jones' Amazonian mythology, it's one of those things that is unequivocally, distinctively Grace. One of the fruits of her and Tricky’s late 90’s collaboration, there are probably few, or no figures in music with the force of personality to personify themselves in such a way ("I am woman, I am son.. I can give birth to she, I can give birth to son"), as a literal force of nature, ("ripping up.. lifting up.. tearing down trees") with any degree of seriousness and pull it off the way Grace does here. Despite having been one of the most unofficially circulated Grace Jones tracks of the past decade, the final version here, with it's much more textured, cohesive production, is a definite improvement on all the previously leaked versions.

Much of the album’s second half sees a reunion with the likes of Sly & Robbie, Uziah "Sticky" Thompson, Mikey ‘Mao’ Chung and Wally Badarou, formerly of the Compass Point All-Stars. Their glory days are most obviously revisited in "Well Well Well." Dedicated to her former producer, the late Alex Sadkin and co-written by Jones and Barry Reynolds, one of her most reliable collaborators in the early 80’s, it's one of the most instant tracks on the album. Musically, with those drums at the top, it sounds like the direct descendant of “Private Life,” or at the very least, a lost remnant of the "Warm Leatherette" sessions.

Adorned by the sticky dub grooves and basslines reminiscent of her early 80’s records, underpinned by the cinematic sonic pallette of Ivor Guest & Ant Genn, “Love You To Life” and “Sunset Sunrise” on the album’s final stretch is where the sound of Classic Grace most clearly meets her more current ambitions. The esoteric meanderings of “Love You To Life” and “Sunset Sunrise” (co-written by son Paulo) with Grace cast as conscious earth mother are perhaps some of the best showcases for the warmth and the more serious depth of Grace's voice. It's a side of her voice that, on this album, has had some of it's most credible exposure.

Devil In My Life,” co-written by long time collaborator Bruce Woolley, and which reportedly dates back to the early 90's perfectly concludes the album. Dominated by Phillip Sheppard's sweeping string arrangements, a highly cinematic production steeped in drama and (self-)destruction (?), it's production following a similar vein as “Storm” from the late 90's, it's perhaps one of the most ambitious, darkly epic productions she's ever put her name to.

After 19 years and the unmitigated major label disaster that was her last album, “Bulletproof Heart” (1989, Capitol) which even Grace herself has deemed the low-point of her catalogue, “Hurricane” has proved to be a pointed, auspicious return to form. The meeting of Grace's sound and image feel, for the first time in years, truly and completely right. Perfectly timed, at a period when pop culture was awash with 1980's references, with fashion and emerging pop figures from the likes of Róisín Murphy, to Santogold, Sam Sparro and others citing her influence, with the album reminding people what made her famous and influential, yet at the same time moving forward with a strong, clear creative vision, Grace and those around her have managed to master that delicate equation of all successful comebacks. True to her nature, instead of taking the more well travelled routes for artists of her age, the dance diva route or that of the oldies songbooks, Grace and those around her have ably managed to not so much regain but retain her relevance. Having never been an artist defined by numbers in the first place, Grace, without any significant commercial compromise, has successfully regained the attention of the same cross-section of the public - the more discerning of pop audiences, as well as the more forward, influential underground audiences that she has always commanded. With 2008 being a year of high profile comebacks in the music industry, while not the loudest, or even the most highly anticipated, Grace's return will likely go down as one of the more well-executed returns of 2008.

While much has been made of the album's similarity in sound to Massive Attack's "Mezzanine" (1998, Virgin), there's nothing on this album that truly feels dated. While much of the album's songs have been kicking around for the better part of the past two decades, and while it's not even Grace's first effort at personal reflection and social commentary (see her 1986 “Inside Story” album for earlier examples of both), when the results are this good and this strong, it hardly matters. Previously covered up by jaunty production (see “Inside Story”), buried beneath awkward attempts at accessibility and trendiness (see “Bulletproof Heart”), or stalled by various professional difficulties in the 90's, “Hurricane” emerges as a clear, complete and articulate expression of what appear to be some of Grace's long held artistic ambitions.

Given her track record however, this hopefully won't be destined to be another stalled, one-off either. So far, it looks promising. After four years of working on this record, Grace has suggested that there is enough material left over for a follow-up. Meanwhile, not neglecting her own visual impact, an intriguing documentary film project, reportedly some five years in the making, is reportedly on the horizon. Directed by Sophie Fiennes (who had previously worked on a feature about Grace's brother Bishop Noel Jones) and evidently titled "The Musical Of My Life," it looks like there are still more surprises in store for the future.

Always one hell-bent on flouting convention and expectation; much like her own shows, Grace has only ever shown up on her time, when she's truly ready. However long it may take, and however frustrating or agonizing the wait may sometimes be, as this record has proved, the results are usually worth waiting for.

Some notable Grace links:
Jody Watley talks about meeting Grace on her Myspace blog
Grace Jones News - An excellent fan blog

PREVIOUS RELATED ENTRIES:
STRANGE WEATHER - THE TUMULTUOUS RE-EMERGENCE OF GRACE JONES (PART ONE) (WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 24, 2008)
DEAR SANTA.. (WEDNESDAY DECEMBER 24, 2008)
THE RETURN OF GRACE JONES? (FRIDAY JUNE 20, 2008)
RÓISÍN MURPHY AND SOME OTHER NEWER SHIT THAT GETS ME ALL EXCITED.. (THURSDAY APRIL 17, 2008)
NO HITTIN' BELOW THE BELT.. (THURSDAY JUNE 29, 2006)
DISCO REISSUES UPDATE (MARCH 17TH - APRIL 12TH (THURSDAY MARCH 16, 2006)

PURCHASE:
GRACE JONES - HURRICANE CD
AMAZON.CO.UK | CD WOW | PLAY.COM

GRACE JONES - HURRICANE (DIGITAL ALBUM)
iTUNES UK | AMAZON.CO.UK | PLAY.COM

GRACE JONES - WILLIAMS BLOOD 12''
JUNO.CO.UK | ROUGH TRADE SHOPS

GRACE JONES - WILLIAMS BLOOD (DIGITAL SINGLE)
iTUNES UK | PLAY.COM

LINKS:
GRACE JONES NEWS
GRACE JONES - HURRICANE @ DISCOGS
WIKIPEDIA: GRACE JONES - HURRICANE

THE AUSTRALIAN - OH BABY, THERE IS ALWAYS DRAMA (BY MICHAEL SAINSBURY) (JANUARY 1, 2009)
DAILY MAIL - THE DAY I MET THE DEVIL IN MS. JONES (BY DYLAN JONES) (DECEMBER 20, 2008)
GAYDARRADIO.COM - GRACE JONES INTERVIEW (DECEMBER 8, 2008)
THE INDEPENDENT - GRACE JONES UNMASKED: A POP DIVA REVEALS ALL (BY JOHN WALSH) (SATURDAY DECEMBER 6, 2008)
AN AUDIENCE WITH GRACE JONES (BY MICHAEL OSBORN) (WEDNESDAY NOVEMBER 26, 2008)
SYDNEY MORNING HERALD - KEEPING UP WITH GRACE JONES (BY HELEN BROWN) (NOVEMBER 7, 2008) DAILY MAIL - 'IT'S HARD BEING A FREAK!' (GRACE JONES INTERVIEW) (BY LISA SEWARDS) (NOVEMBER 7, 2008)
THE TELEGRAPH - GRACE JONES AT 60 (BY HELEN BROWN) (NOVEMBER 4, 2008)
SHROPSHIRE STAR - GRACE JONES INTERVIEW (OCTOBER 22, 2008)
THE OBSERVER - STATE OF GRACE: MIRANDA SAWYER MEETS GRACE JONES (SATURDAY OCTOBER 11, 2008)
IN CONVERSATION WITH GRACE JONES (WITH ANDREW HORNERY) (JUNE 30, 2008)

METACRITIC: GRACE JONES - HURRICANE
THE VILLAGE VOICE - GRACE JONES'S HURRICANE PAYS SELF-TRIBUTE TO AN ICON (BY BARRY WALTERS) (TUESDAY DECEMBER 16, 2008)
SLANT MAGAZINE - GRACE JONES: HURRICANE (BY ERIC HENDERSON) (DECEMBER 9, 2008)
PITCHFORK - GRACE JONES: HURRICANE (BY JOSHUA KLEIN) (NOVEMBER 21, 2008)
SYDNEY MORNING HERALD: GRACE JONES - HURRICANE (BY BERNARD ZUEL) (NOVEMBER 8, 2008)
TIMEOUT LONDON ALBUM REVIEW: GRACE JONES - HURRICANE (BY PHIL HARRISON) (MONDAY OCTOBER 27, 2008)
THE GUARDIAN - ROCK & POP REVIEW: GRACE JONES - HURRICANE (BY ALEXIS PETRIDIS) (OCTOBER 24, 2008)

CATEGORIES: ARTICLES & RAMBLINGS, MINI DELIVERIES, NUDISCO, VISUAL DISCO, DISCO NEWS

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