Review Summary: There are no labels or genres or tags to describe this album.
It is what it is, and what it is, is brilliant.
It’s always interesting hearing people shoot off little nuggets of musical wisdom about who is a good musician and who is not. It’s especially interesting when my friends tell me who is the best guitarist in the world (Slash’s replacement in Guns N’ Roses
, apparently), particularly when the same people couldn’t play Smoke On The Water
if their lives depended on it. As a musician, I’ve always been reticent to label someone as a ‘bad bassist’ or a ‘shi
t guitarist’. Who knows what they are actually capable of... They just lay some tracks down for an album - maybe you’ve seen them live – but you can’t really
say. Victor Wooten can play Mark Hoppus bass lines and Joe Satriani can play Billy Joe Armstrong’s guitar parts. Who would’ve thought that The Cat Empire
’s Harry Angus was actually the most talented musician of that band" The Cat Empire were always ok
, but nothing too special. They do put on a mean live show though. So when I first heard Tools For Survival
, I was completely blown away. My mate probably shouldn’t have said “this is the dude from The Cat Empire
... No, the other guy who plays the trumpet”.
Sometimes you hear albums that are so unexpectedly brilliant that they have an almost mystical influence over you. The psychedelic instrumentals, thumping bass, poignant lyrics and overriding emotion of Harry Angus and Jan Skubiszeweski as a duo are truly magnificent. (Let’s face it, Jackson Jackson are better than The Cat Empire. The ’Empire should be the side-project.) Following 2007’s The Fire Is On The Bird
– probably as close as you’ll find to Australia’s version of The Streets
– Tools For Survival
takes all of the positive elements of its predecessor – Harry’s lyrics, some pretty fat bass lines and psychedelic instrumentals – and adds the polish: the trade-off of rapping for more singing; greater integration of the backing band; more mature subject matter; far more refined production; and enough dance beats to get your toe tapping throughout. But don’t get put off by the dance/electro influence. These moments coalesce effortlessly with the tender intros and breaks, and provide the driving energy behind every song.
Even the electronic interludes of The Devil In Me
are enough to pump this number along and they contrast superbly with the mellow, thoughtful verses. Despite this being one of the album highlights, it is undeniably outshone by the following four minutes of bliss, on Hope For The Future (Where Did You Go")
. A lyrical performance caught between the pessimism of an evolving world and the underlying optimism of its deliverance floats above a soft-yet-oddly-forceful instrumental backing that draws you in and holds you tight, making you ride the highs of the rolling chorus and the lows of a finale that leaves you feeling as though you want more, without needing a thing. Promising to build towards a huge final chorus, we are left hanging on a knife’s edge as Harry’s voice abruptly becomes a cappella and fades to nothing. One of the most unexpected conclusions to a track that I have heard on its first spin: a conclusion that superbly defines not only the feeling of the song, but also that of its subject matter.
In a similar vein to Incubus
’ A Crow Left Of The Murder
, the first half of the album is a gift that keeps on giving: there are no week moments here. (But don’t get confused, Jackson Jackson don’t really sound like Incubus.) The trippy, spaced-out “na na na, na na na” and thumping, disco-inspired final chorus on All Alone
show just how different this album is to The Fire Is On The Bird
, and how much variety Angus has incorporated into these 45 delightful minutes. The seaside, sea-breeze-through-an-open-window feeling of the start of Atlantis
set the tone for a six-minute road-trip along the coast, into the jungle (“I’m going to a place where the mosquitoes inject you with LSD and make you feel better
”), to the beach-side bar for a cocktail, and to a dark nightclub for a scotch on the rocks. This song has everything. Gentle verses, pumping dance beats, soaring vocals, soothing melodies, a chilled-out vibe, a pumped-up vibe, a relaxed atmosphere, an ominous feel... The band says they wanted this to sound ‘underwater’, and that it’s the ‘best headphone song on the record’. They’re spot on. This is the song you listen to when you shut yourself off from everything else, maybe close your eyes, and just get lost in the music. It’s hard to describe what this song sounds like without using pretentious and ambiguous examples like the ones above – I have no idea what genre you would call this song, and can’t think of anything else it sounds like. It’s a common theme throughout the album, and here, this is a bloody awesome thing.
The experimentation takes centre stage at various points throughout the album, most notably with the sounds emanating from a Minimoog
on The Devil In Me
, the acoustic guitar on Hope For The Future (Where Did You Go")
, the synth work scattered across the album like pepper on scrambled eggs, and the sitar on Tools For Survival
. To label this album as one genre not only wouldn’t do it any justice, but would completely miss the point. This is all over the shop. It’s meant to be that way. And it works. It’s psychedelic, trippy, dreamy, catchy, energetic, tender, hip-hop, dance-pop, dream-pop, electro, and this is probably not even the half of it. I don’t want this review to be too long so I’ll wrap it up here: Jackson Jackson are one of the brightest acts in Australia right now. Tools For Survival
is one of the best Aussie albums of ’08. It completely changed my perception towards not only Harry Angus and The Cat Empire, but side-projects in general. Possibly the best side-project ever. Check. This. Out.
The best ones:
No. 1 to 11 inclusive, but
The Devil In Me
Hope For The Future (Where Did You Go")
are the three besties. Enjoy.