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The intro: The palm trees sway in a gentle sea breeze, the coconut-rum cocktail glistens beneath a sun-kissed canopy and the shimmering sound of Grace Jones comes gliding across the sands- a perfect summer soundtrack. I take a deep breath, close my eyes and wish I was there. When I open then it is still raining but a white label of the new Grace Jones LP has dropped into my lap and it sounds very good indeed.
The artiste: In her modelling days, they used to hang tailored suits on Grace Jones. Now they hang made-to-measure songs for her to croon and spit out. Name the style and Grace will shift the emphasis and the outfit accordingly, swinging from a droll deadpan to an uptempo skank, from a beach goddess to the stuck-up sophisticat nightclubber – too nice to talk to?
One of the tracks on the new LP is the supposedly autobiographical ‘Art Groupie’, although the singer characteristically gives little of the game away: ‘Ill never write my memoirs/ There’s nothing in my book/ Don’t ask me any questions/ My personal life is a bore.’
The sleeve: The cover shot of ‘Nightclubbing’ is by Grace’s boyfriend and image-maker Jean-Paul Goude. Her body is caked in maroon paint beneath a black Giorgio Armani jacket and that prim pillbox cut. The stare is cold and impenetrable, a welcome as chilly as the music is warm and tropical.
The facts: ‘nightclubbing’ is the fifth grace Jones album, recorded, like the last one, ‘Warm Leatherette’ at compass Point in the Bahamas and produced by Island’s Chris Blackwell and Alex Sadkin.
The Players: The musicians are the usual Jamaican sessioneers supreme The Revolutionaries, Sly n’ Robbie plus guitarists Mike Chung and Barry Reynolds, percussionist Sticky and organist Wally Bardon. They combine to etch out a shifting, soulful surface, an exotic ice- water backdrop for Grace’s vocal veneer.
Drummer Sly is always at the helm, stretching the beat and contorting it into that familiar elastic wicked ‘n’ slick groove, occasionally coming close to perfecting the disco/ roots reggae fusion that he’s been striving towards for years in his solo work.
The time: 37 minutes. 25 seconds in all!
The songs: Nine in all. Three conventional cover versions, four co-penned Jones originals and two songs written specifically for the chanteuse, one by Sting and the other by Marianne Faithfull and Compass Point All- Star Barry Reynolds.
The opener, ‘Walking In The Rain’ is an instant highpoint. Written by former Easybeats Vander and Young and originally recorded under the name Flash And The Pan a decade ago, the song is a mean and moody gem: ”Feeling like a woman/ Looking like a man/ Sounding like no-one/ Making when I can/ whistling in the darkness/ Shining in the light/ Coming to conclusions/ Right is night is tight/ Walking, walking in the rain…”
The two other covers complete side one, Bill Withers’ magnificent ‘Use Me’ and Iggy’s ‘Idiot’ standard ‘Nightclubbing’. The later, of course, is probably the perfect song for Jones’ sardonic, caustic deadpan, although its execution could be better, despite Sly’s imaginative syndrum accompaniment. ‘Nightclubbing’, possibly the next single is just a little too obvious.
Between the covers comes Grace’s own ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’, percussive frothy funk, knee- deep in sexual metaphor: “Pull up to my bumper baby/ And drive inbetween!”
The autobiographical ‘Art Groupie’ opens sides two, to be followed by another magnificent moment in the extended soft, focus, accordion skank of ‘I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango)’, Grace slipping and dipping from English into bar-room French and back again. The sensual ‘Feel Up’ is brimful of calypso carnival sounds, the sort of song that the Belle Stars would do more that justice to.
The only times Grace seems ill-at-ease are as she swops Trenchtown patios with, presumably, the sharp-lipped Sly and the tried to rock out on Sting’s ‘Demolition Man’.
But compensation comes, again in the final track, the Faithfull- Reynolds composition ‘I’ve Done It Again’, with Grace back in her element, soul-fingering her way through a melancholy mood- piece, reminiscent even of Joni Mitchell in parts!
The Outro: I spent an otherwise- miserable weekend afternoon with the sound of Grace swirling around my little earphones, grooving on songs effortlessly sung but put together with a jeweller’s eye for detail. It didn’t transport me to a funky Nassau and when I look out the window its still raining..but there, but for the Grace of Jones go I.
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