A world-class album from a true cultural icon.
John Doran 2010-06-21
Nobody was expecting Grace Jones to re-launch her career successfully with 2008’s Hurricane, arriving 19 years after her previous studio album. Even fewer were expecting this larger-than-life artist to return with a vital piece of work that engaged with the post-trip hop end of dubstep and a hitherto unexplored familial connection with evangelical gospel song. But while this was a forward-looking album in some respects, it also provided a concrete link back to the most fruitful period of her tenure at Island Records in the early 80s, when she produced her best work. Warm Leatherette (1980) and Nightclubbing (1981) were two masterful works of post-punk pop that delved into the worlds of disco, reggae and funk much more successfully than most of her ‘alternative’ contemporaries, while still retaining a blank-eyed alienation that was more reminiscent of David Bowie or Ian Curtis than most of her peers.
Nightclubbing was perhaps the ‘lighter’ of the pair but no less convincing for it. Her recipe for success was a fearless, almost intimidating, choice of significantly reworked cover versions, combined with the use of peerlessly drill-practised session musicians. The album is, of course, named after the Iggy Pop track from his Bowie collaboration The Idiot. Jones’ skill as a facilitator as well as pop cultural icon is exposed in the way the original song is converted from Krautrock-damaged, Suicide-aping sleaze fest into sophisticated, lightly-dub inflected, disco reggae. The conceptual joke of the song is clear: Grace doesn’t hang around in the same horrible dives as Mr James Osterberg, but you can be sure that the experience is just as existential and soul-draining. She has just applied Pop’s lyrics to the cocaine-and-champagne instead of amphetamine-and-vodka lifestyle.
All of her covers are astutely chosen; Bill Withers’ Use Me and Flash and the Pan’s Walking in the Rain are canny reworkings and, as with all good covers, the style in which they are reworked becomes a statement in itself. (Contrary to popular belief there isn’t a Police cover on this album. Demolition Man was written for her by Sting, who, in typical graceless style, then decided he liked the song and got The Police to record a lacklustre version later on.) But the album’s undoubted centrepiece is an original composition and a work of cocksure funk disco genius. Pull Up to the Bumper remains a bona-fide dancefloor filler and one powered by a delicious irony at that. Jones’ fanbase at the time was mainly comprised of white gay men, who idolised this chiselled, masculine woman who sang unashamedly and quite obviously about the joys of an, ahem, alternative sexual practice for her, that wasn’t so alternative for them.
For this recording, La Jones’ pair of aces in the hole came in the shape of Sly Dunbar on dub echo-treated metronomic drums and Robbie Shakespeare dealing out tar-thick bass wobble. Ensconced in Island’s Compass Point studios in the Bahamas the statuesque beauty, aided by her two lieutenants, laid down a world-class album.