Joe Jackson’s album “Look Sharp” has been in my collection from the early eighties. It doesn’t sound pristine any more because over the years it has seen many turntables, some only a sad excuse for the word. The styli used were sometimes only marginally better than a darning needle. In a way that fits the album. “Look Sharp” was released in 1979, the waning years of punk. Waning or not, there still is a definite air of musical anarchy about this album. “Look Sharp” sounds gritty (in a good way) even if many of the tracks are actually more laid back compared to the punk of the years just preceding this release. Side B is a bit more uptempo and there the punk influence shines through the most.
What makes this album so memorable is that the lyrics and the melodies go hand in hand. No manhandling of phrases to fit the tune here. If you try to sing along, which you inevitably want to do on the majority of the tracks, it turns out that the songs aren’t as simple as they sound. For me, that’s the sign of a great songwriter at work.
Another major factor that draws me to this album time and time again is the driving bass of Graham Maby. Maby not only lays the foundation, his bass playing is an important part of the melodic content of the songs. I don’t know how many plectrums he broke during the recording of this album but his playing definitely stands out and is the engine of every track. The drumming by Dave Houghton is the other element very much on the forefront of the mix. Together with the bass then, the rhythm section is the driving force of this album, which is a surprising choice during the mixing process, considering that the songs very much revolve around the melody and the lyrics. It also shows how strong the melodies are: they survive perfectly. They even flourish on the rhythmic punch.
This album still sounds fresh and relevant. It can be seen as the transitional stage between punk and Britpop. If you listen closely you can clearly hear where Oasis and Blur sprouted from.Yet, I think this album stands the test of time better than many of the Britpop hits.
Crackles and pops
Through the crackles and pops of my much played pressing this record loses nothing of its spark and energy. It never fails to lift my mood while I listen to it and indeed, try to sing along. I remember me playing this record in my bedroom at our family home in the early eighties. As soon as the most punk-a-like song on the album, “Got the Time” played, I always felt a tinge of regret that my time with this record was once more at an end. All these years later that hasn’t changed.