Monday, February 26, 2018

Classic Album Review: Grace Jones - Island Life (1985)

With the phenomenon that is Grace Jones set to perform a couple of live shows in New Zealand this coming weekend, in Queenstown and in Auckland, it might be timely to take a look back at one of her blasts from the past …

At just ten tracks in length, Island Life is hardly the most comprehensive Grace Jones compilation out there, but it is close to perfect for my needs, and it contains her biggest hits from the 1977-1985 period. It is compact, concise, and places emphasis on quality over quantity. And the former fashion model-turned singer-turned actress-turned androgynous icon was at the absolute peak of her popularity when this was released in 1985, so it probably works as an ideal entry point for any newcomers.

Island Life showcases the full range of Ms Jones’ unique talents; pure funk in the form of ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’, which has to be one of the most infectious tracks ever committed to black magic plastic. Uncomplicated disco in the shape of early hits ‘I Need A Man’ and ‘Do Or Die’. Shades of soulful reggae with ‘My Jamaican Guy’. Very Eighties high-gloss production values on ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ (produced by Trevor Horn, and reputedly stolen from the clutches of Frankie Goes To Hollywood). Plus outright weirdness on the hugely trippy ‘Walking In The Rain’.

Jones’ penchant for covers is another feature of this compilation. While we get passable takes on ‘La Vie En Rose’ and ‘Love Is The Drug’, it is her superb rendition of (The Pretenders’) ‘Private Life’ which impresses most. Taken from her 1982 album Living My Life, and sung with just the right amount of brooding intensity and sense of melodrama, it is more than a match for the original. Precisely the sort of thing Grace Jones excelled at, ‘Private Life’ just eclipses ‘Pull Up’ as my own favourite Jones moment.

If I was being a pedant or suffering a severe bout of bookish tendencies (something I can’t deny), then I might complain that there was no room on this album for ‘Nipple To The Bottle’ (also off Living My Life), or the title track off the 1980 album, Warm Leatherette, or indeed, further covers from her classic 1981 release, Nightclubbing – perhaps ‘Use Me’, ‘Demolition Man’, and Iggy Pop’s title track itself. But hey, it’s probably churlish to moan too much in this instance, this is just fine as it is.

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