The first thing to say about ‘Hurricane’ is that it is a classy bit of work, and I’m not just saying that because I’m old enough to remember Russell Harty. The production values on this CD are high, the list of collaborators (Brian Eno, Tricky, Sly and Robbie amongst others) stellar, the songs strong, Grace Jones‘ voice inimitable. She makes her own rules, does Grace, always has, no doubt always will, her voice is her own and no-one else’s, a rare commodity in these corporate and homogenised times. Let this be said because this album is good, very good, and it deserves to be measured against the highest standards, which is I’m sure just how Ms Jones would want it.
Even measured against those highest standards, there is little to complain about. “Sunset Sunrise” is not just classic Grace Jones, it is classic pure and simple, with an infectious pop reggae rhythm (that’s Sly and Robbie for you), memorable melody, strong lyrics, a sentiment befitting someone, how to put this, not as young as once she was. I don’t mean to be rude here – the sooner we get over this ridiculous glorification of youth that has plagued our culture for decades the better. We’re all going to get old and die so get over it, which is incidentally one of the things this song says, with the wisdom and lightness of touch which comes with age. I also don’t mean to imply that she doesn’t still look fantastic because she does, far better if you ask me than the sleek, androgynous and implausibly shiny Jones that graced the cover of Island Life, but I digress.
It feels indelicate to mention this, but it has been nearly twenty-five years since her last album, and in model/pop star terms she was old then (nearly thirty perhaps, the mind boggles). This is relevant only because one of the things that lifts this album above the ordinary is the way that she is not masking anything, ignoring or distorting where she is at right now, but rather simply singing about her life with daring, self-assurance, and a surprising amount of heartfelt reminiscence. See for example “I’m Crying (Mother’s Tears)” (note the position of the apostrophe – she is not crying the tears of mothers in general here) and the upcoming single “Williams’ Blood”.
“Love You To Life” and “Well Well Well” also bring to the fore the pop reggae vibe that works so well whenever it appears on this album, some distance away from the clipped and brittle groove that defined older tracks such as “Pull Up To The Bumper Baby” and “Love is the Drug”, and giving the songs a glorious uplifting mood even when the underlying message of the song is more sombre or reflective.
The other tracks explore a harder-edged, darker sound, which is where the high standards come into play. Listened to in the background they have enough hooks to keep the brain engaged, and the lyrical content is on the whole strong. Even the opening track “This Is”, which threatens to be little more than vapid posturing (‘This is my voice/My weapon of choice’) is redeemed by the rest of the album, where she really does use her voice (not just her singing voice, but her attitude, her whole mode of being) as a weapon. But listen more carefully, and a few worries appear. There is no lack of inspired ideas – on the contrary, on tracks like “Corporate Cannibal”, “Devil In My Life” and “This Is”, the problem is that there are too many ideas, which tend to pile up against each other without the kind of careful development that could make them shine. And the lightness of touch which made the rhythm section such a joy on the more reggae-inspired numbers translates into a lack of aggression to match the muscularity of the lyrics. (The official website optimistically describes the music as ‘industrial’ – Ministry is industrial, this isn’t, it simply isn’t nasty enough.) The structure of the title track is, I’m sure, intended to mirror a hurricane, with two heavy sections book-ending a quieter, beat-free passage. But the build-up at the end of that middle section doesn’t explode into life, rather the beats come in one after the other, almost apologetically, robbing the listener of the satisfaction of an abrupt transition.
But enough of these niggles. ‘Hurricane’ is a fine album, and it improves with every listen. If you know Grace Jones from her eighties heyday, you’ll recognise the improvement on her earlier work, and appreciate the way she has grown up in the same way you have; if you are too young to remember her first time out, you’ll be impressed by an artist from a previous era sounding so energetic and contemporary in her approach. Either way, you’ll be glad you’ve been graced.
Grace Jones – Hurricane on amazon.co.uk
Hurricane on amazon.com
Grace Jones – The Hurricane is Coming Website
Grace Jones Official Website
By: Jim Driscoll