This Week's Album Releases

JOE JACKSON | Night and Day II ERYKAH BADU | Mama's Gun WU-TANG CLAN | The W ARTFUL DODGER | It's All About the Stragglers DIDO | No Angel


JOE JACKSON |
Night and Day II (Manticore)
It's always good to have one's preconceptions confounded: Joe Jackson, I admit, has never really made much of an impression on me before, but it's impossible to ignore an album that presents a musician in such confident command of both his subject-matter and his musical vocabulary as
Night and Day II.

JOE JACKSON | Night and Day II (Manticore) It's always good to have one's preconceptions confounded: Joe Jackson, I admit, has never really made much of an impression on me before, but it's impossible to ignore an album that presents a musician in such confident command of both his subject-matter and his musical vocabulary as Night and Day II.

A belated follow-up of sorts to the acclaimed 1982 song-cycle that regarded Jackson's expatriate home of New York with the keen eye of a newcomer, Night and Day II traverses similar territory, but with the added weight of experience colouring his vignettes of vibrant city life. There's a distinctly theatrical side to Jackson's songs: condensing entire lives into a few vivid lines, they're like mini-musicals, each hinting at a whole world of desire and pain.

It's a risky business: at his worst, Jackson can resemble a more gifted Billy Joel; but at his best, his grasp of orchestral techniques brings him close to Leonard Bernstein. There's certainly a distinct flavour of West Side Story to songs such as "Hell of a Town" and "Stranger Than You", where pizzicato strings and Latin percussion underpin his musings on New York, "a town where there's always somebody stranger than you".

It's a panorama that's fascinating and ugly by turns, Jackson conveying both the magnetic glamour and excitement of life in a cosmopolitan metropolis - the reflective "Stay" is as much a musical embodiment of the Manhattan skyline as Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" - and the inevitable downside, where stress breeds paranoia and humans take on a more reptilian aspect. A series of guest vocalists helps to bring Jackson's characters to life: Marianne Faithfull effortlessly evokes the aching regret of the lonely careerist in "Love Got Lost", and Sussan Deyhim likewise captures the immigrant's baffled awe in "Why". There's an appropriately soiled pride, too, to the bitter reflections of Dale De Vere's lady-boy hooker in "Glamour and Pain", in which Jackson eschews his usual orchestral-jazz stylings in favour of a mannered disco pulse more akin to the Pet Shop Boys.

The stand-out tracks are those in which Jackson confronts tragedy with dogged perseverance, through a bereaved Latina's recollections of a nightclub fire disaster ("Happyland"), and a son's letter home recounting his search for a runaway sister ("Dear Mom"): the latter, in particular, expertly encapsulates the late-20th-century atomisation of family structures. Not the prettiest of pictures, but one of the more revealing.

ERYKAH BADU | Mama's Gun (Motown) It's some measure of Erykah Badu's swift ascent that despite having released her debut album a mere three years ago, she seems to have been a leading figure on the R&B scene for much longer. Doubtless the self-styled "warrior princess from another sun" would ascribe her apparent ubiquity to the timeless nature of her material, which displays a keen awareness of things cyclical, from the motions of the planets to more personal biorhythms. But it's just as much the result of her music's firm foundations in the funk and jazz strains of the Seventies, as realised through the Soulquarian production team responsible for D'Angelo's splendid Voodoo. As with that album, there's a relaxed, organic manner to these grooves that's perfectly appropriate to Badu's reflections on tracks such as "Orange Moon" ("How good it is/ How God is"), "Penitentiary Philosophy" (You can't win when your will is weak") and the irresistible "Bag Lady" ("All you need to hold on to is you"). Her trump card, however, is the core of self-denial underpinning songs such as "Cleva" and "AD2000", which sets Badu firmly apart from her less enlightened peers; which of them would declare of a disputed suitor, as she does in "Booty", "I don't want him/ 'Cause of what he doin' to you/ And you don't need him/ 'Cause he ain't ready"? In such selfish times as these, that's sisterliness of a special order.

WU-TANG CLAN | The W (Loud/Epic) According to the Clan's producer RZA, The W is strictly "a B-Boy album", one designed to make you "take off your silk shirt and put your hoody back on" - surely an implicit criticism of the creeping Lexus-isation of hip-hop. It's certainly more concerned than most with preserving life, tracks such as "Careful (Click, Click)" evoking the routine neighbourhood atmosphere of random menace, while "Let My Niggas Live" and "I Can't Go to Sleep" - collaborations with Nas and Isaac Hayes, respectively - directly address the growing death toll of black youth. Compared with the monumental Wu-Tang Forever, its predecessor from 1997, The W may seem somewhat lacking in ambition and scope, but then, so do all other rap albums. Most of the familiar Wu-Tang characteristics are present here - the snippets of Shaolin kung fu melodrama, RZA's ominously static grooves - but the absence of the incarcerated Ol' Dirty Bastard (featured only on the Snoop Dogg duet "Conditioner") drains the Clan's raps of their more outlandish verbals. Which is not to say they're getting soft, for all the commercial punch of the single "Gravel Pit"; certainly, while Method Man is still coming up with memorable images such as the line in "Protect Ya Neck" about how he'll "put on my gasoline boots and walk through hell", there's no shortage of distinctive diction in the Wu-Tang collective.

ARTFUL DODGER | It's All About the Stragglers (Columbia) With record racks bracing for the Christmas tidal wave of corporate garage compilations, it's indisputable that the terse two-step garage beat has been the breakthrough sound of 2000. And with their string of hits for such as Craig David and Romina Johnson, it's equally indisputable that the Artful Dodger duo of Mark Hill and Pete Devereux are the leading stylists of the new sound. Unlike their main rivals, True Steppers, whose album seems to feature much the same groove all the way through, It's All About The Stragglers demonstrates the diversity of the Dodger's productions, equally effective in showcasing the warm baritone of Lifford on "Please Don't Turn Me On", the breathy vulnerability of Michelle Escoffery on "Think About Me", and Robbie Craig's Stevie Wonder-ful phrasing on "Woman Trouble". The sparse, skeletal groove of "Think About Me" is a typical Dodger design: little more than a rimshot and a triangle, stalked by a spidery bassline and a synth-string swoon, providing an elastic net to carry Escoffery's vocal. But it's the aptly titled "Outrageous" that best illustrates their unique way with singers, in the liberties they manage to take with Lynn Eden's voice - chopping, looping, editing and speeding up, treating it as just another musical element to be tinkered with accordingly - without relinquishing its position at the heart of the track.

DIDO | No Angel (Cheeky/Arista) Dido's voice will already be familiar from Eminem's epistolary single "Stan", which liberally samples her song "Thank You", staining its air of Zen acquiescence with more sinister shadows. Thanks to that, and to the use of "Here With Me" as the theme to the ludicrous alien-teenagers TV series Roswell High, the north London singer has become this year's third-biggest-selling UK artist in America (after Radiohead and Sting), shifting a million copies of this debut album since its US release last December. It's an impressive first effort, packed with thoughtful, well-rendered expressions of devotion, rejection and self-assertion, though its sharply divided presentation styles speak volumes about the divisions between current US and UK tastes. Despite the attentions of the producers Pascal Gabriel and Youth, the early tracks here seem to want to present Dido as a sort of latter-day Suzanne Vega, while the seven tracks helmed by Dido and her brother Rollo (the guiding hand behind Faithless and Dusted) reflect a more British sensibility, one less embarrassed at embracing dance culture, dub reggae and the like. Despite being ignominiously shunted to the rear of the album, the latter tracks fit her more snugly, the siblings' light, soaring settings displaying a natural ease and grace that comfortably match Dido's blithe breathiness. Recommended.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Feeling all at sea: Barbara's 18-year-old son came under the influence of a Canadian libertarian preacher – and she had to fight to win him back
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Living the high life: Anne Robinson enjoys some skip-surfed soup
TV review
Arts and Entertainment

Great British Bake Off
Arts and Entertainment
Doctor Who and Missy in the Doctor Who series 8 finale

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Chvrches lead singer Lauren Mayberry in the band's new video 'Leave a Trace'

music
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Home on the raunch: George Bisset (Aneurin Barnard), Lady Seymour Worsley (Natalie Dormer) and Richard Worsley (Shaun Evans)

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Strictly Come Dancing was watched by 6.9m viewers

Strictly
Arts and Entertainment
NWA biopic Straight Outta Compton

film
Arts and Entertainment
Natalie Dormer as Margaery Tyrell and Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
New book 'The Rabbit Who Wants To Fall Asleep' by Carl-Johan Forssen Ehrlin

books
Arts and Entertainment
Calvi is not afraid of exploring the deep stuff: loneliness, anxiety, identity, reinvention
music
Arts and Entertainment
Edinburgh solo performers Neil James and Jessica Sherr
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
If a deal to buy tBeats, founded by hip-hop star Dr Dre (pictured) and music producer Jimmy Iovine went through, it would be Apple’s biggest ever acquisition

album review
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith is joining The Voice as a new coach

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Dowton Abbey has been pulling in 'telly tourists', who are visiting Highclere House in Berkshire

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Patriot games: Vic Reeves featured in ‘Very British Problems’
TV review
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Refugee crisis: David Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia - will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi?

    Cameron lowered the flag for the dead king of Saudi Arabia...

    But will he do the same honour for little Aylan Kurdi, asks Robert Fisk
    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Our leaders lack courage in this refugee crisis. We are shamed by our European neighbours

    Humanity must be at the heart of politics, says Jeremy Corbyn
    Joe Biden's 'tease tour': Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?

    Joe Biden's 'tease tour'

    Could the US Vice-President be testing the water for a presidential run?
    Britain's 24-hour culture: With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever

    Britain's 24-hour culture

    With the 'leisured society' a distant dream we're working longer and less regular hours than ever
    Diplomacy board game: Treachery is the way to win - which makes it just like the real thing

    The addictive nature of Diplomacy

    Bullying, betrayal, aggression – it may be just a board game, but the family that plays Diplomacy may never look at each other in the same way again
    Lady Chatterley's Lover: Racy underwear for fans of DH Lawrence's equally racy tome

    Fashion: Ooh, Lady Chatterley!

    Take inspiration from DH Lawrence's racy tome with equally racy underwear
    8 best children's clocks

    Tick-tock: 8 best children's clocks

    Whether you’re teaching them to tell the time or putting the finishing touches to a nursery, there’s a ticker for that
    Charlie Austin: Queens Park Rangers striker says ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    Charlie Austin: ‘If the move is not right, I’m not going’

    After hitting 18 goals in the Premier League last season, the QPR striker was the great non-deal of transfer deadline day. But he says he'd preferred another shot at promotion
    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones