Review Summary: Joe Jackson ties classic pop melodies to New Wave attitude to craft a superior. heartfelt pop-rock album.
When Elvis Costello made snarky, eloquent singer-songwriters cool with his breakthrough on both sides of the pond in the late '70s, Joe Jackson was able to secure a major recording contract twenty years ago. He took advantage of the opportunity: His debut Look Sharp! is nothing short of brilliant.
If Costello began his career as a New-Wave rocker rooted in punk rock and London pub rock, then Jackson's early music was New Wave rooted in '50s rock'n'roll and Motown/Phil Spector pop. The reason this album remains a classic is because it has great pop melodies, the kind that never really get old. Joe Jackson narrates the great tunes with some excellent, self-deprecating lyrics. Hidden behind his wit is a true vulnerability; as Joe Jackson mocks superficial romance and his own loneliness, he pines for something real.
The track list is highlighted by Is She Really Going Out with Him? The song epitomizes everything that makes Jackson likable. It's layered with a hooks and a memorable bass riff and showcases his ability to capture moods with simple lyrics and deft observations. In terms of hitting hard, the song is one step harder than pop pleasures like Jessie's Girl and two steps softer than edgier numbers like Ever Fallen in Love? Going Out with Him also features one of the great opening lines of all pop songs: "Pretty women out walking with gorillas down my street."
There are plenty of other great songs on the album. One More Time, the opening track, sets the tone of the album with melodic but percussive guitar riffs. Sunday Papers and Happy Loving Couples both have a big New Wave feel compared to the rest of the album, and have superior melodies.
The second half of the album isn't as memorable as the first because the hooks start running a little bit thin, but even the worst tracks have moments. Stuff like the title track, the faux-reggae beat of Fools in Love, and country-influenced Instant Mash aren't quite as immediate as the early tracks but reward multiple listens. The album is, overall, very consistent and has aged quite gracefully.
Jackson's debut deserves a place in any music fan's library. For those who prefer pop and radio rock, Look Sharp! is a classic, and for anyone who prefers their music to be more complicated and thoughtful, Look Sharp! is intelligent and charming enough to be a worthy guilty pleasure.