Just months after “Mike’s Murder,” this sensational album came out in March 1984; I have strong associations of this album with spring thaws and the smell of that cool air as the snow melts, the early months of our marriage, the early months of my sobriety.
This album marked the first of Joe Jackson’s efforts to bring life back to recording, getting away from multi-track, isolated instrumentation and instead trying to capture the sound of a band actually playing together. While not completely live and not completely direct to digital, there is a special sound to this album that was quite unlike anything else that was happening at the time, as digital production and multi-track recording that searched for absolute perfection had completely taken over.
He also took his songwriting off in yet another direction, infusing it with Latin flair and some jazzy sounds (of which there were hints in some of the “Mike’s Murder” themes). The result is a dramatic, romantic album, opening with the unusual “The Verdict” (inspired by but not related to the Paul Newman movie, the Hollywood ending of which angers me to this day). While “Go For It” approaches being a novelty song, “You Can’t Get What You Want,” “Happy Ending,” and “Be My Number Two” all proved to be all-time classics, some of Joe Jackson’s best songs.
The cover is evocative of jazz classics, which is not mistake, and is another reason to love this album.
Again, this came out in our first year of marriage, our first year post-college, played in our first apartment together. It also came out right when I got sober. Weighed down by genetics, culture, and training, it was probably inevitable that I would become an alcoholic. That’s what men in my family (in all branches) did. I fought it, I tried to quit any number of times, and then I determined that this was it, I had hit my bottom. While rehab was barely a thing in 1984, I had decided that if I couldn’t get clean this time, I was going to get into a rehab somehow. And then I stopped drinking. Period. And life got better. The sun got brighter, the days clearer; I had thrown off a tremendous weight.
Being from exactly that time, this album smells like that fresh spring air, the thawing ice; it feels like opportunity and promise, like a fog lifting. I love its sound, both the music and how it was produced, and I will forever associate it with that wonderful time when I suddenly realized I could live clean, without drugs or alcohol. It was possible. All I had to do was do it.
But, when I listen to it, I don’t necessarily think about that, either. This is a great album, definitely in my top three Joe Jackson albums. Unlike some of the other albums from this just-before-CDs period, I did get a CD version of this and continued to play it throughout the years.