Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Grace Jones - Private Life: The Compass Point Sessions (1998)

I've been familiar with Pull Up To The Bumper and Warm Leatherette for a long time, but it had somehow escaped my notice that the fabulous Ms. Jones (star of such films as Conan The Destroyer and the chronically under-recognised eighties bloodsucker flick Vamp) had an entire art-pop oeuvre which placed her well apart from her contemporaries.

Private Life, a double-disc set, encompasses most of the tracks from the three definitive albums that Jones recorded with the legendary Sly and Robbie at the Compass Point Studio in the Bahamas - namely, Warm Leatherette (1980), Nightclubbing (1981) and Living My Life (1982) (for those who aren't familiar with Jones' oeuvre, the first two consist chiefly of covers, from The Normal to Roxy Music to the Pretenders and Iggy Pop). I'm a big roots reggae fan (if you can stomach the dancehall homophobia), and also a fan of what we might term alt-disco and of eighties synth beats and eighties electrominimalism. So this album, on which the three combine, had me salivating from the first time I played it.

The tracks range through the above genres, adding some soul and funk ; the emotional palette ranges from cold and disconnected, the epitome of knowing, sexualised eighties veneer, to quietly intense, to joyfully psychotic. All of the three albums mentioned above are great, although I prefer the first two, but for some reason this album comes together in a way that none of them do.

The tracks are mostly extended versions and/or dub versions (apparently these are all played live, rather than extended remixes), which really bring something out of the tracks which extends and deepens them and allows them to create an overall soundscape of fragment and repetition, running tracks into each other in a way, unusual for a compilation, which makes the album an experience as a whole rather than a bunch of songs that stand or fall on their individual merits. Even the tracks that I'm not quite so enamoured of fit perfectly into the aesthetic and the listening experience. The mastering itself is crystal clear (necessary for this kind of beaty, extended endeavour where the sound quality is make or break) and foregrounds the breathtaking art of Sly & Robbie.

Particular highlights are the long and dub versions of The Pretenders' Private Life, and of Joy Division's She's Lost Control; long version of Roxy Music's Love Is The Drug; a demo of the Cash classic Ring of Fire; and a soul-inflected cover of the Motown hit The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game (which i'm also, incidentally enamoured of in the version by the underappreciated Mary Wells). Overall, though, the album is an experience which drags you into Grace Jones' twisted, genrebending world and doesn't let go 'til you're grooving your art out.

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