Joe Jackson Turns Up 'Volume' With Original Band

Excerpted feature from the magazine for that has been expanded with artist quotes and information exclusive to the online version.

After realizing that 2003 would be the 25th anniversary of the recording of his debut album, "Look Sharp!," Joe Jackson says, "I picked myself up off the floor. I was so stunned." Indeed, it is hard to imagine that it was as far back as 1978 that he and the Joe Jackson Band recorded such classics as "Got the Time," "Sunday Papers," and "Is She Really Going Out With Him?"

Jackson considered reuniting bassist Graham Maby, guitarist Gary Sanford, and drummer Dave Houghton, "but I immediately dismissed the idea. I thought it would be cheesy, you know? Too nostalgic and all that. But I had about six or seven finished songs that I wasn't quite sure what to do with, and it struck me that all of them would actually work with that band."

Such was the impetus of "Volume 4," due March 11 from Restless/Ryko in the U.S. and simultaneously worldwide via Ryko International. Recorded late last year in England, the 11-track album features the same unit that recorded "Look Sharp!," "I'm the Man," and "Beat Crazy" for A&M before splitting in 1980.

"I found myself getting excited about the idea, and the next step was to go meet with all the guys to see if they'd be into it, and I wasn't sure that they would," Jackson admits. "[But] they were all so enthusiastic. I mean, just blown away. They couldn't believe it, because no one thought that I would ever do this, including me, especially me!"

Before recording, the group played the entirety of the new album each night during a series of sold-out U.K. club dates. It's an experience Jackson -- who released four albums for Sony Classical before becoming a free agent again -- says was "fantastic! People really like this band and never expected to see it again, so it's a treat. It's certainly a treat for us, and I think that feeling is infectious, because we're having a great time.

"The album is better than it would have been if we'd just gone straight in the studio," Jackson says. "There's something just a bit too safe about that. I wanted to get out there and get the adrenaline pumping and play in front of an audience. I think it makes a huge difference."

The proof is in such uptempo cuts as "Little Bit Stupid" and album closer "Bright Grey," which is driven by a staccato drumbeat reminiscent of "Got the Time." Other notables are the ballads "Blue Flame" and "Love at First Light," the fun blast of ska that is "Thugs Are Us," and the unabashed pop of "Take It Like a Man" and first single "Awkward Age."

"I think it's very much in the spirit of the first three albums, but it's not a sort of slavish imitation of it," Jackson says. "I wanted it to show how we've grown. Certainly as a singer, I'm a zillion times better than I was then. And as a writer ... [there's] a certain amount of experience and craft and so on, that I don't think I really had in 1979."

One song Jackson says he couldn't have written then is, "Awkward Age," inspired by a young girl in a train station. "I figured she was about 15. She had something, but it wasn't formed yet. And I started thinking, 'What would I say to someone like that?' And I realized that, I actually would have more in common with that person than either of us might realize at first. I mean, we're all going through a lot of the same s***, basically.

"You know that I think we're in such a youth obsessed culture that I think we forget that sometimes it's actually a hell of a lot better being 40 than being 15," he says, laughing. "I mean, I wouldn't be 15 again if you paid me millions of dollars!"

Jackson describes album first and last songs, "Take it Like a Man" and "Bright Grey," respectively as "my gender-f*** songs. I like to do these role-reversal songs, or battles of the sexes. The album begins and ends with two of those, not for any particular reason. I'm interested in playing around with that, with the stereotypes, which I never really bought into much, myself."

Even though he's already played all of the songs live on last year's U.K. tour, Jackson is looking forward to taking them on the road and presenting them to new audiences. "A couple of the songs are very humorous songs and they are great fun to play, like 'Little Bit Stupid' or 'Thugs Are Us.'"

VH1 Classic will present the band's 18-date U.S. tour, which kicks off March 14 in New Orleans, culminating with a trio of April 11-13 New York shows in as many venues. The channel is also planning to air a new half-hour special and blocks of Jackson's old videos. A 26-date European tour will follow, beginning April 24 in Cologne.

Along with the new material, fans can expect to hear plenty of favorites from throughout Jackson's career. "We're going to play more of the old stuff, because that's what we did together originally; quite a few songs from the first three albums, that I haven't done for a long time."

Tapping into that nostalgia (something Jackson describes as "sort of like a recreational drug. It's OK if you have a little bit now and again"), initial pressings of the album will include a limited-edition bonus disc with six old favorites -- "One More Time," "On Your Radio," "It's Different for Girls," "Is She Really Going Out With Him?," "Got the Time," and "I'm the Man" -- recorded during the U.K. tour.

In addition to new albums to be recorded for the label, Restless/Ryko is exploring licensing a host of out-of-print albums from Jackson's A&M catalog, now under the control of Universal. "It's a very sore point," Jackson says about such albums as "Beat Crazy," "Will Power," "Big World," and "Blaze of Glory."

Ryko Label Group president Joe Regis says he is also hoping to entice Hollywood to engage the artist's services for scoring and soundtrack projects, such as the acclaimed (and out-of-print) work he did for 1984's "Mike's Murder" and 1988's "Tucker: The Man and His Dream."

As for the future of the Joe Jackson Band, "It's a one-time deal," Jackson says quickly, before conceding, "Well, I did say we would never get back together. I remember saying in 1984 that I was never going to tour again ... so we'll see."

Excerpted and expanded from the March 1, 2003, issue of Billboard. The full original text of the article is available in the members section.

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