8 of 8 people found the following review helpful
Sublime and sadly forgotten album, from 1998.,
This review is from: The Jazz Age (Audio CD)
I don't know much about Jack, other than the fact that they have another album besides this one that is extremely hard to track down. They seemed to get buried during the latter half of the last decade, which might be why I'd never heard of them or this album until 2003, when I came across a copy in a local music shop in the same section as the likes of Pulp, The Divine Comedy and The Decembrists and was intrigued. The references to those bands seem apt, with Jack having the same orchestral heavy pop sound and lyrics that reference beat poetry and European cinema, which, eventually, gives way to a more confessional kitchen-sink brand of song-writing that is much more honest and affecting. It is also worth noting that the album is produced by Darren Allison, who co-produced those first few Divine Comedy records... amongst them, the orchestral-pop masterpiece, Promenade.
The sleeve notes on the album reference Miles Davis, Dexys Midnight Runners and Roxy Music, but there are also similarities to people like Scott Walker... which is most apparent on that string-drenched opening track, Three O' Clock In The Morning. Here, the band establish the kind of lyrical ideology that will continue throughout the album, with lead singer Anthon looking into that whole romanticised depiction of youthful alienation... sure to appeal to the kind of people who sit alone listening to records in the early hours of the morning. It's very much a take off on the territory of the 'men-in-long-coats' melancholy that the NME used to celebrate in the days when people like Paul Morley were in charge, with the album as a whole taking a cultural standpoint and referencing the likes of Picasso, Nabokov, Cocteau and Warhol alongside references to student poverty, heartache and recreational drug use. It'll probably sound a little pretentious on first listen, but give it time... the melodies and overall arrangement of the instrumentation is gorgeous, with few bands that I can think of really putting so much into the creation of a sound and atmosphere that is sustained throughout the entire LP.
The sound of the album alternates between storming rock songs that seem inspired by some of the tracks on the first and second Dexys albums and more lethargic mood pieces that have a touch of the Velvet Underground about them, or maybe even solo Bryan Ferry. I like the more rock-influenced songs, but obviously, the slower numbers appeal to me much, much more, with the middle-part of the album in particular, including slow-burning downers like My World Verses Your World, Saturday's Plan, Nico's Children and Lolita Elle... four of the most gorgeous and/or emotionally abrasive songs you're ever likely to hear. The use of orchestration is apparent throughout, creating a backbone to the songs and continuing the doomed, cinematic atmosphere that the first track so perfectly creates.
Pablo is less dirge-like and more up-tempo, including more humours lyrics ("there's make up and ice cream and stubble on your face, and your clothes are pronounced Versace and not 'Versaytch'") and that chanting chorus, "I'm jealous, of Pab-LO, and you". The album continues with a hint of Latin rhythms on My World Versus Your World, which has a great vocal delivery and impeccable overall band performance mixing seamlessly with the studio orchestration. Here the album reaches it's peak and the band create some gorgeous melodies and heartfelt lyrics. Saturday's Plan is a morose ode to twenty-something listlessness and social ennui ("Saturday's plan, is that there is no plan, we'll sit around, just doing nothing"). The excellence continues through Nico's Children, which shifts from a lulled, though slightly foreboding tempo, into something quite epic and fairly abrasive, with that great bridge/chorus section, "oh Nico's Children, follow me like flies... needle point arms and nothing in their eyes, come home to me early, say that you'll save me, so sunny and dirty, oh swear you won't spare me" before moving into that hopeless lament, "the last in the line, of beautiful mistakes...".
My favourite song on the album remains the gorgeous ballad, Lolita Elle, which lyrically presents a similar tale as The Divine Comedy's similarly beautiful song Your Daddy's Car, only without the holiday camp melody and purposely-vague lyrics!! The first verse and entire introduction is absolute perfection, building around some acoustic guitar picking and a chiming strum, Anthony sings "my Elle was kicking back, said honey must you drive so fast, we were young and high as summer, I knew it couldn't last... taking the mountain pass, she smiled and said 'you know... a love like ours, is doomed and stained as snow'... take the road to her olive thighs, to the seas behind her eyes, our flesh turning to flame, star blind as we came...", which leads us into a melodic key-change and the rise in instrumentation taking us headlong into that sublime chorus; "oh my Lolita Elle, anything but heaven's got to be some kind of hell, yeah I know the rules are tough, on the likes of us, the damned and the beautiful as well, but it's the only way... if we're to get to heaven again".
This leads us into the great up-tempo piece Cinematic, and begins that transcendent run of song that takes us to the close. The only hiccup on the entire album is the woeful glorification of lad-culture on the frankly embarrassing Steamin', which ruins the momentum that had been building nicely and reminds me why I hate university students so much (and I am one!!). Some might argue that the band are being ironic, but regardless of context, the chorus, which includes the refrain "we're steaming, cos we've been caning it since noon" and the pathetic sub-Dexys chant "the top, the top, get it off, get it off" just sound obnoxious, as opposed to satirical. Thankfully, the album claws itself back for the two closing songs, the sweeping Love And Death In The Afternoon and the worn and weary dénouement, Half Cut, Wholly Yours, which takes us right back to the feelings of loss and isolation so central to the opening track.