Joe Jackson - Rain (Cover Artwork)
Staff Review

Joe Jackson

Rain (2008)


Roughly five years after he returned to the punk/ska/pop hybrid that made him famous (and interesting) on pseudo-comeback record Volume 4, Joe Jackson has slipped back into the role of "boring old man" on new album Rain. Like Volume 4, it features the original Joe Jackson trio that turned out such great pop-rock records as Look Sharp! and I'm the Man, allowing for some solid playing among the three members. But while bass player Graham Maby thoroughly explores the space afforded three-pieces and drummer Dave Houghton stays steady and assured, they can do little to liven up the dull arrangements Jackson has come up with on this new record.

Like Elvis Costello and even Ben Folds' recent solo work, aging has sucked the force out of Jackson's songwriting. Where `70s tunes like "Got the Time" and "On Your Radio" had nervous energy and a raw punk-ish guitar edge, Rain is piano-based and, primarily, mellow. While a couple of tunes on the 10-track disc, like "Citizen Sane" and "King Pleasure Time," carry an old-style rock ‘n' roll vibe, the overall feeling is dull. Some cuts, like "Solo (So Low)," refer back to the loser angst of hits like "Is She Really Going Out with Him?" and "One More Time," but again, in a lackluster fashion.

By his own admission on the album's accompanying drear-fest of a DVD, Jackson has always been a better composer than a lyricist, and this especially holds true on Rain. He whips out some brilliant piano parts like on the jazzy "Uptown Train," and the overall haunting pop of opener "Invisible Man" is quite catchy. But there's no defending the verbal clunkers littering the disc: "You know I hate it when you talk this way / ‘Cause you don't listen to a word you say"; "If you want to live forever / Ask a doctor / Someone clever"; "We hear you, we see it / You do it like you wanna be it"; and so on. The best/creepiest line goes to "Rush Across the Road," a ditty about seeing a pretty girl on the other side of your average boulevard, avenue, street or coastal highway: "Maybe I should / Rush across the road / Leave my heavy load behind." Dude, you should probably ask for permission first.

Still though, Rain isn't completely lacking in entertainment value. It's just very middling. Jackson's 53-year-old voice has held up well, and his piano skills are top notch even when accompanying such tripe as "Solo (So Low)." Same goes for the rest of the trio -- I cannot emphasize how cool some of Maby's basslines sound underneath Jackson's piano playing. Rain boasts some solid performing in the vein of Jackson's Night and Day series; it's just the writing that needs more effort.