Joe Jackson – Fool
Joe Jackson requests some sympathy for the deplorable on his new album. That’s no surprise. He’s always been one of rock’s greatest contrarians, right up to occasionally giving up on rock for plenty of good reasons. The new Fool, however, has Jackson once again perfectly fit for miserable times. Keep in mind he already had to flee NYC for Berlin after Mayor Michael Bloomberg worked up a rule that people there couldn’t smoke in Manhattan nightclubs anymore. The nannies have since only become more oppressive, and Jackson’s only become more bitter.
Of course, Jackson was just as unhappy with the regimented gay club scene that he blasted on 1980’s Beat Crazy, or with the hypocritical rock star telling a baffled rainforest resident that “we gotta save this world starting with your land” on 1991’s Laughter & Lust. A general lack of patience with judgmental morons has always brought out the best in Jackson.
He’s spent decades working out his anger with elegantly wasted melodies or caustic lyrics, both of which remain plentiful on Fool. But there’s also some peak sophisticated vitriol in Jackson’s attack on the “Fabulously Absolute,” where he goes after the preening public monitors ready to dismiss others as “racist and a rube,” along with being “just somebody to deplore/someone who doesn’t know the score.”
There are plenty of other similarly stirring moments, too. Jackson’s ambitious tribute to Duke Ellington in 2012 was kind of a misfire, but his other albums in the 21st century have made for an impressive winning streak – even while mining pretty much the same territory since debuting with Look Sharp in 1979. Night and Day II made for a mannered start, but Jackson sounded a lot more animated while rebounding with his reunited original band for 2003’s Volume 4. That was followed by 2008’s Rain and 2015’s Fast Forward, with Jackson rushing to get his live band from that last tour into an Idaho studio for this fairly quick follow-up.
Fool follows Fast Forward as preferring steely-eyed pop over any kind of blistering rock statement. But that really just helps the former Angry Young Man make his point. Nobody’s doing a better job of pondering the existential dread of a world getting mired in, as Jackson notes in “Big Black Cloud,” an atmosphere of “no money, no sex, no fun.”
Jackson’s smarter than the people he mocks, though, and Fool offers plenty of lovely tunes amid some classy takes on political science and sexual politics. Some of the romantic subject matter has him reminiscing at the age of 64, but Jackson remains objective enough to stop and ponder if he’s really the stranger in a banal land. He puts it more politely. That’s because Fool also has to once again prove that Jackson never gets angry enough to forget that he’s an important entertainer.