Review Summary: Grace Jones is back. And this time, it’s personal.
The flat-top. The power suits. The tigers. The low, growling voice. The drunken passes at journalists. The stare. That thing with Russell Harty. All character traits of the commercial dominatrix, all singularly intimidating, all striking, all off-putting to anyone who likes their music videos harmless and pearly-toothed, and yet all assuaged by the faint ridiculousness of it all. Whether it’s playing a vampire, a barbarian, having it off with James Bond or releasing double intendre-fests like the funk-disco of ’Pull Up To The Bumper’
, Grace Jones has built up her intermittent career by possessing all the vociferous qualities of the oddity, the alien, the ‘other’, but you can’t help but think that it’s all knowingly self-conscious. Still, whether it’s Studio 54 in the 70s with Andy Warhol in tow or pumping iron with Arnie and Dolph in the 80s, it seemed that the bizarre Ms. Jones was only relevant to a certain generation.
2008. After performing at the London Meltdown festival in the summer with new buddies Massive Attack, Grace has released her first album in nearly twenty years. It may have seemed an unlikely time for a comeback, especially given the stretch of years since her last effort, the dire Bulletproof Heart
back in 1989. But the swathes of glowing reviews her performance received boded well for the album, as did having Tricky and Brian Eno amongst others as rumoured collaborators, as well as the return of the old team Sly and Robbie.
is a superbly executed combination of sparse, moody trip-hop, dirty dub and reggae, with occasional flashes of industrial and ska into the bargain. The moody ’This Is‘
sets the tone straight away, all tribal beats, rigid verses, deep intonations and soulful chorus. 'William’s Blood’
carries on the soul feeling and extends it by adding a full gospel choir. A fantastic full-blooded chorus, crackling guitar, cool electronics and a lyrical theme unusual to her combine to make this the best song of the lot; it even manages to survive the addition of a few verses of ’Amazing Grace’
(groan) at the end. Hilariously po-faced lead single ’Corporate Cannibal’
betrays the obvious Massive Attack influences; if Grace had terrified Beth Fraser to death in 1997 with just a single snarl, this is what Mezzanine
would have sounded like. Menacing, mechanical, a predatory black widow, yet just tongue-in-cheek enough to carry it off. Elsewhere, the title track was co-written with Tricky back in 1997 and apparently took eleven years to perfect. ’Hurricane’
builds steadily in power and force and features some very cool electronic shimmers and chimes, but unfortunately lacks the melodic force of the rest of the album.
The second half of the album sees a change in style. There’s still a dark, moody edge to the material - not once do any four-to-the-floor dance floor fillers appear - yet the pace is shifted up a notch with great dub songs like ’Well Well Well’
and 'Love You To Life’
, her vocals relaxing a little as she slips back into her Jamaican roots. The icy, angular edge to her voice only returns with the excellent ‘Devil In My Life’
, that ends the album with a cacophony of dramatic strings and dirty electro buzzes.
”This is my voice, my weapon of choice”
So she declares at the start of the album, and you have to agree. Music aside, it’s her deep, contralto voice that first leaps out and claws you around the throat the first time you hear her. She infuses every line with cold menace throughout ’This Is’
and turns into a veritable machine on ’Corporate Cannibal’
(with the pithy line ”Pleased to meet you/Pleased to have you on my plate”
). It’s a personal stamp that all her albums have, along with batshit crazy lyrics about giving birth to sheep, and it’s just as ubiquitous here. However, there’s something decidedly new here, something that makes Hurricane
not only better than anything she’s done before, but different - she’s gone a little touchy-feely. It’s not much, it’s hard to pin down, but the personal touch is definitely present. Strong contender for second-best song on the album is ’I’m Crying (Mother’s Tears)’
, a lilting ballad where she pays tribute to her mother and delivers a velvet soft vocal you never suspected she had. Lyrically, ’William’s Blood’
explores her lineage and her grandfather‘s exploits (so that’s where she gets it from) and ’Devil In My Life’
has her taking the back seat for once and getting decidedly introspective. It’s all just a little unorthodox for a Grace Jones album.
The greatest quality Hurricane
possesses is the fantastically smooth and varied production (chiefly, I suspect, down to Eno). The appeal of immediate highlights like ’William’s Blood’
will still be there long after you start uncovering the multitude of layers and enjoying the melding of styles; the hissing vocals over rigid beats that dissolve into uneasy trip-hop, before settling into laidback dub. But even tracks like ‘Sunset Sunrise‘
don’t seem to be comfortable in the light of day - they are smoky, hard-edged songs that are meant for the dusk, and though Warhol’s muse might have managed little more than nine tracks in nearly twenty years, it can be said that quality control hasn’t failed her; Hurricane
is probably her best, and definitely her most consistent. Amazing Grace, indeed.