Review Summary: A good sampling of Grace Jones' recording career (prior to 'Hurricane')
Well, the legendary Jamaican-born, singer, actress and ex-super model Grace Jones surprised both critics and fans in 2008 when she re-emerged after a 19 year hiatus, seemingly with a vengeance, on what is arguably the best album of her career "Hurricane". Now in her sixties, Grace Jones has amazingly never looked or sounded so great. "The Grace Jones Story" features her work prior to that stunning album and easily is the most lengthy, generous sampling of her sorely over-looked music career. Where it scores over the several Grace Jones compilations already available is that "The Grace Jones Story" highlights all areas of her recording career, from her days as a celebrated disco diva and deservedly hailed as the "queen of gay discos", to her heralded trilogy of masterpieces with Sly and Robbie and to her post-Island work where Grace delved into pop and underground territory. The vast majority of hit singles Grace has scored variously on the pop, R&B and dance/club charts are included here as well as a wealth of top-notch classic album tracks.
The artwork of "The Grace Jones Story" is very fetching. The CD case unfolds into a short book containing a mini biography and a host of pictures illustrating the weird yet wonderful art of Grace Jones. It's a popular, well-known myth that Grace Jones somewhat off-the-wall image often overshadows her musical output as far as mainstream commercial recognition goes. This, unfortunately, seems all too true but "The Grace Jones Story" re-affirms that Grace wrote and recorded several dynamic, innovative, highly original songs, where she literally attacked each song with a diverse vocal approach, igniting the production, and by the time it was through, owning it!
CD1 is mainly devoted to her disco diva period in the late 1970's where she worked with Tom Moulton and cut three albums "Portfolio" (1977), "Fame" (1978) and "Muse" (1979) (all of which enjoyed immense success variably on the club and R&B charts). Disc one virtually includes the album "Portfolio" (1977) in its entirety with tracks such as the exceedingly catchy (though campy) "That's The Trouble" and a credible updating of the Broadway standard "Send In The Clowns". Even better from around this late 70's period was the raging "I Need A Man", a slamming disco classic that ranks right up there with some of the best disco classics of that era. "Do Or Die" is also another particularly catchy song that stands of strong musical merit but most outstanding of all from this era between 1977-1979, was Grace's inspired, magnificent, vibrant re-working of the 1920s Edith Piaf classic "La Vie En Rose". Grace alternately, and endearingly, sings in a strikingly rich, warm, engaging voice, delivering both English and French passages (after all her music was highly popular in Europe). The glorious, shimmering opening flows into a blend of sprightly-played Latin guitars and a smooth, reggae-like beat. "La Vie En Rose" captures, arguably, Grace Jones most outstanding vocal performance of her career. She literally caresses the lyrics and exudes impressive, passionate vocal phrasing. Quite a masterpiece!
Other disco tracks on CD1 include a beautifully delivered version of "What I Did For Love", conveying a notably more vulnerable Grace, "Fame" (distinctly sounding similar to "Do Or Die"), a stunning interpretation of "Am I Ever Gonna Fall In Love In New York City", the rolling, funky sounds of "Don't Mess With The Messer", bubbling tremendously with flair and fire, while "Sinning" is edgy and compelling and finally "Saved" which closes the disco chapter of "The Grace Jones Story". Incidentally "Sinning" and "Saved" had originally been included in one long red-hot medley on her 1979 studio album "Muse".
Her notable cover of the Normal's "Warm Leatherette" kicks off her legendary reggae-new wave icon era which also saw her image switched to that of an adrogynous, warrior-like look, created by her ex-husband Jean Paul Goude. Too me, this was her most incredible and exciting era. Just listen to the now-classic session playing by the likes of Sly Dunbar, Robbie Shakespeare, Uzziah Thompson, Wally Bardou etc, jamming hard away behind Grace's tough, distinctly unique vocal approach. The absolutely stunning "Warm Leatherette" consists of striking, thrashing guitar riffs on the raging, fiery chorus. The track encapsulates a winning, eclectic blend of reggae-new wave-rock-soul, with an aggressive and robotic-like performance from Grace.
Her thrilling, rocketing version of Roxy Music's "Love Is The Drug", again arguably, surpasses their version. Grace's vocal delivery is snappy, though extremely engaging, conveying soulful qualities. This driving number, a highlight of Grace Jones career, raced into the UK Top 40 Chart and included on the superb, critically-lauded "Warm Leatherette" album of 1980. CD1 then grinds to a halt following a riveting, soulful remake of the Marvelettes "The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game" (written by Smokey Robinson) where Grace's performance is playful, exuberant and assertive.
CD2 is consistently excellent, and in my opinion represents Grace Jones at her best (prior, of course, to her 2008 "Hurricane" album). The disc opens with Grace's fantastic, compelling version of the Pretenders "Private Life", again successfully combining an astute mixture of reggae-new wave-rock-soul. Grace talks in her renowned, deep, evocative voice on the thrashing verses and singing gently on the haunting chorus. "Private Life" became one of Grace Jones biggest sellers, flying into the UK Top 20 chart.
Grace's startling cover version of Joy Divisions "She's Lost Control" had first surfaced as the B side to her Top 20 hit "Private Life". The track is rather manic throughout! Although beginning endearingly enough, it careers along to a point where it becomes monotonous. Far better is the funk-driven "Pull Up To The Bumper". The lyrics are riddled with double entendres and the fabulous arrangements contain lots of groovy, spiraling rhythms, incessant jangly guitars and a persistent, squelching, reggae-like beat. "Pull Up To The Bumper" was originally released in 1981 and stalled at a disappointing #53. Upon its re-issue in 1986, following the top 5 success of her compilation album "Island Life", it raced into the Top 20 and flew up the Club and R&B Charts. One of Grace Jones definitive classics.
The swirling, dark, hypnotic sounds and vibes of "Walking In The Rain" from 1981's critically-acclaimed "Nightclubbing" (a top 10 R&B album and also voted "Album Of The Year" by readers of NME magazine) is a stand out! Grace delivers her trademark half-sung, half-spoken passages, all adding to the intensity of the mood and atmosphere. The boisterous, utterly superb "Use Me", a Bill Withers cover version, is another knock-out track with a red-blooded, ferocious, adrenalin-fuelled performance by Grace, while "Nightclubbing" (written by David Bowie and Iggy Pop) sporadically captures bizarre, yet haunting, synchronised sound effects. Extraordinary interpretation to say the least. "Ive Seen That Face Before" is something of an over-looked masterpiece. Immersed in a dark setting, Grace once again delivers English and French passages, intertwined with Latin-flavoured, reggae-like arrangements. It cleverly encapsulates vibes of Jamaica, Paris and New York! A lilting mix!
The sparse "My Jamaican Guy" from 1982's organic "Living My Life" (another Top 20 seller in Britain), features Grace endearingly singing in Jamaican twang. The mid tempo confection of Reggae and Soul, became another international hit to her credit. She also injects Jamaican twang in her fascinating cover of Michael Van Peebles "The Apple Stretching" which depicts life in "sunny" New York. The bouncy, infectious delights of "Nipple To The Bottle" is another marvelous slice of reggae-new wave-soul that echoes the sounds of her classic hit "Pull Up To The Bumper". "The Apple Stretching" and "Nipple To The Bottle" were released as a double A side single, chalking up another hit to her name in the process.
In 1986, following the mammoth Top 5 success of her compilation album "Island Life", Grace departed Island Records, signing a new deal with the Manhatten label. She headed in a new direction musicially, some of which has been vastly underrated. Grace was immediately teamed with the genius Nile Rodgers (who had weaved successful hit singles for the likes of Diana Ross and Madonna) for the delightful, tropical-like pop/R&B/dance project "Inside Story" (1986). From this wonderful album was the contagious "I'm Not Perfect (But I'm Perfect For You)", steering Grace into a more commercial sound. Distinctly 1980's but a splendid number (if you like 80's pop/R&B music layered with drum machines and synthesizers) that boasts a sizzling hot, pumping, pulsating bass-line. The track was one of Grace's biggest hit singles States side, bouncing into the Top 10.
"Love On Top Of Love" was taken from 1989's less-successful and largely over-looked "Bulletproof Heart", an enjoyable, if slightly disjointed (and dated) album. "Love On Top Of Love" is another bright, commercial-like belter that is instantly infectious (all depending on whether you like this era of Grace Jones or not). It whirled up the dance/club charts though was vastly underrated at the time. Grace once again conveys a vulnerable side on the rousing, soft-rock/pop ballad "Someone To Love", which intertwines English and French lyrics and was another track lifted from 1989's "Bulletproof Heart". CD2 then closes with Grace's cracking 1992 club hit "Sex Drive" which is a belter and comes complete with some mildly risque lyrics.
"The Grace Jones Story" is undoubtedly the most lengthy, comprehensive compilations of her work. Anyone wanting a thorough over view of her music career, then this 2 disc collection is the best on offer (despite omitting other notable cuts such as Grace's Top 20 smash hit "Slave To The Rhythm"). It's just a shame Grace hasn't always been rewarded with the commercial acceptance she so richly deserves. Even so, "The Grace Jones Story" is a testament of her extraordinary, remarkably diverse musical talents and artistic gifts.