Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Grace Jones - Nightclubbing

Being a fan of The Police back in the day - particularly the driving “Demolition Man” from Ghosts In The Machine - I was not too keen on hearing an androgynous Jamaican woman named Grace Jones unleash her own version of the song In fact, Jones was so completely off of my radar during the time of her original releases that I only remember her stunning look and not a note of her music, except that lone Police cover.

A reissue reminder of Nightclubbing prompted a new consideration-this time where I followed the album as it should have been absorbed originally. From it, I learned that Jones’ version of “Demolition Man” predates The Police’s version-so it really isn’t fair to claim that Jones’ cover is somehow sacrilegious to the original, since it is the original.

And any mention of her look failed to consider just how artistically creative it really was. The androgyny, the sharp angles of her clothing and hair, all of these divisive visuals now appear as groundbreaking, breaking new ground for other artists that also use provocative appearances to get noticed.

But back then, there was nobody like Grace Jones, and I suppose you could still say the same thing today. What I failed to learn then is the backstory to her career. Her musical career came with some pretty intense personal sacrifices, specifically how her controversial looks created friction with her father, who was attempting to become a church bishop. He was under the impression that his religious desire was becoming by his daughter’s look and musical content. The decision to distance himself from his daughter’s fame meant that he also would need to distance himself from her. While most parents would be proud at their kid’s success, Grace would be forced to appreciate her own independently.

Even the music itself was becoming more challenging. Jones had originally transitioned from a successful modeling career to music by means of disco. By the late 70’s, she had abandoned the genre that gave her a certain amount of success and began incorporating different styles of music into her own repertoire as well as toying with the idea of what women should look like.

To facilitate this, Jones traveled back to her native Jamaica and enlisted the help of Sly & Robbie to initiate her “Compass Point Trilogy,” of which, Nightclubbing comes in as the second installment. It is her most well-known work and it is more influential than originally thought.

The Compass Point Allstars go beyond the early 80’s reggae vibe that they had already consistently mastered by this point. Instead, they bring genres like disco, electronica, new wave into their island grooves, leaving Jones to use every song as a new role with the only thread becoming Nightclubbing’s danceability.

The deluxe edition expands Nightclubbing into two discs, but it’s the original one that you’ll want to focus on. Disc two is filled with redundant extended versions that offer little over the original album versions, with the exception of two unreleased tracks “If You Want To Be My Lover” and a great cover of Gary Numan’s “Me! I Disconnect From You” which suggest that Jones’ adherence to reinterpreting cover songs is a very worthwhile strategy, as was her unconventional appearance.

Ultimately, it’s what is found inside the packaging that reaffirms Jones’ musical output: challenging, endearing and influential. Ironically, the same qualities that are found on her album covers.

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