Joe Jackson - Look Sharp! (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Joe Jackson

Look Sharp! (1979)


Joe Jackson’s debut, Look Sharp, is most likely the only reason anyone knows his name. It featured the hit single, “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” And while he would score a bigger hit in the early 1980’s with “Steppin’ Out” the song that became synonymous with him in pop culture, was the lower charting tune. While the single would certainly make Joe Jackson’s debut standout on the Billboard charts, it’s blend of punk, pop, and rock didn’t do a lot to give him a distinct voice at the time; Elvis Costello released his third album, Armed Forces, the same year this came out.

As I listened to this album multiple times, while writing this review, that’s all I could think of was people who had done the same stuff better. Now don’t get me wrong, this album is solid in its own right, and songs like “One More Time”, “Sunday Papers,” and “Fools in Love” hold up four decades later. But, when it’s 1979 and you’re making music that sounds similar to Elvis Costello … that’s a hard game to win.

Jackson does come close those, one of the instances where he does that is on the hit single “Is She Really Going Out with Him?” And I agree, it’s mindless pop drool. But, it’s mindless pop drool that still works after forty years. That’s got to count for something, I think. There are places where the album rocks harder and the lyrical wit is more biting. But, to get to those, we had to get this elephant out of the room.

The best parts of the album though are where Jackson pulls off something that Costello rarely did. Costello was a smart ass early in his career and would blend and hop from one subgenre of rock to another without thinking twice about it, but Costello rarely engaged in humor that was directed at himself the way the Jackson does on this debut. Which means while Costello’s albums are, qualitatively, better. This album is a hell of a lot more fun.

While this is a great album, and a damn fine debut. If I were to tell you it’s Joe Jackson’s best work, I’d be lying. I’m the Man was more fully realized, Beat Crazy was more diverse, and Night and Day may be the best all-around album he recorded. As the eighties progressed into the nineties, Joe Jackson lost a lot of his magic. His songwriting never fizzled but his energy and enthusiasm weren’t as apparent.

Look Sharp remains a great debut, and is definitely worth checking out. But, it isn’t the best album of 1979 and it’s not the best album of Joe Jackson’s career. But, it’s a solid debut. And it’s a hell of a ride. Do yourself a favor, and give it a listen some time.