Greatest Hits

Joe Jackson

A&M, 1996

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


[Adapted from a review originally appearing in On The Town magazine on August 6, 1996]

Smack in the middle of this album, somewhere just after the New Wave thrash of "I'm the Man" and the big band horns of "Jumpin' Jive," but still before the electric jazz sophistication of "Steppin' Out" and the nightclub swing of "You Can't Get What You Want," Joe Jackson sums up his own career handily: "Don't you feel like trying something new? / Don't you feel like breaking out or breaking us in two?" Yes, he does—over and over again.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Jackson's 1979 debut Look Sharp! combined a caustic New Wave attitude with driving rock guitars and incisive lyrics, inviting comparisons to his contemporary Elvis Costello. But even Jackson's first hit, the sardonic doo-wop ballad "Is She Really Going Out With Him?," barely disguised his true leanings as a jazz singer. He took yet another detour before arriving, checking out reggae rhythms in 1980's Beat Crazy, but by 1981 Jackson had struck out decisively for new musical territory with Jumpin' Jive, a collection of ’40s-style jazz and jump blues lifted right out of Cab Calloway's repertoire (both albums are represented here by their title tracks).

Even then, though, Jackson seemed determined not to imitate but rather to adapt and expand on the work of his favorite old-school artists. His next effort, the cosmopolitan electric jazz of Night & Day (led by the major hits "Steppin' Out" and "Breaking Us In Two") earned him a huge new audience. He's wandered further since then, recording albums of complex instrumental jazz, big band workouts like the aforementioned "You Can't Get What You Want," and even the occasional power-pop ditty.

No matter which corner of the musical world Jackson has explored, he has always brought with him the common elements of ambitious musicianship and an acid tongue. While that particular combination has sometimes led him down the dangerous path of taking himself too seriously, when he nails a gorgeous number like "Nineteen Forever," sprinkled with melodic references to nearly every stage of his musical wanderings, Jackson is capable of producing remarkably diverse little masterpieces.

Rating: A-

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