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.

Arts and Entertainment
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Tony breaks into Ian Garrett's yacht and makes a shocking discovery
TVReview: Revelations continue to make this drama a tough watch
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
The party's over: Paul Higgins and Stella Gonet in 'Hope' at the Royal Court

theatre
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special

Broadcaster unveils Christmas schedule

TV
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Look out: Broad shoulders take Idris Elba’s DCI John Luther a long way
tvIdris Elba will appear in two special episodes for the BBC next year
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is dominating album and singles charts worldwide

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

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Kieron Richardson plays gay character Ste Hay in Channel 4 soap Hollyoaks

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Midge Ure and Sir Bob Geldof outside the Notting Hill recording studios for Band Aid 30

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jake Quickenden and Edwina Currie are joining the I'm A Celebrity...Get Me Out Of Here! camp
tvThe two new contestants will join the 'I'm A Celebrity' camp after Gemma Collins' surprise exit
News
The late Jimmy Ruffin, pictured in 1974
people
News
Northern Uproar, pictured in 1996
people

Jeff Fletcher found fame in 1990s

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the new Paddington bear review

Review: Paddingtonfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Tony stares at the 'Daddy Big Ears' drawing his abducted son Oliver drew for him in The Missing
tvReview: But we're no closer to the truth in 'The Missing'
Arts and Entertainment
Henry Marsh said he was rather 'pleased' at the nomination
booksHenry Marsh's 'Do No Harm' takes doctors off their pedestal
Arts and Entertainment
All in a day's work: the players in the forthcoming 'Posh People: Inside Tatler'

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne plays Stephen Hawking in new biopic The Imitation Game

'At times I thought he was me'

film
Arts and Entertainment

books
Arts and Entertainment
One Direction go Fourth: The boys pose on the cover of their new album Four

Review: One Direction, Four

music
Arts and Entertainment
'Game of Thrones' writer George RR Martin

Review: The World of Ice and Fire

books
Arts and Entertainment
Sean Bean will play 'extraordinary hero' Inspector John Marlott in The Frankenstein Chronicles
tvHow long before he gets killed off?
Arts and Entertainment
Some like it hot: Blaise Bellville

music
Arts and Entertainment
A costume worn by model Kate Moss for the 2013 photograph

art
Arts and Entertainment

music
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

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

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Drifting and forgotten - turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Homeless Veterans Christmas Appeal: Turning lives around for ex-soldiers

    Our partner charities help veterans on the brink – and get them back on their feet
    Putin’s far-right ambition: Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU

    Putin’s far-right ambition

    Think-tank reveals how Russian President is wooing – and funding – populist parties across Europe to gain influence in the EU
    Tove Jansson's Moominland: What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?

    Escape to Moominland

    What was the inspiration for Finland's most famous family?
    Nightclubbing with Richard Young: The story behind his latest book of celebrity photographs

    24-Hour party person

    Photographer Richard Young has been snapping celebrities at play for 40 years. As his latest book is released, he reveals that it wasn’t all fun and games
    Michelle Obama's school dinners: America’s children have a message for the First Lady

    A taste for rebellion

    US children have started an online protest against Michelle Obama’s drive for healthy school meals by posting photos of their lunches
    Colouring books for adults: How the French are going crazy for Crayolas

    Colouring books for adults

    How the French are going crazy for Crayolas
    Jack Thorne's play 'Hope': What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    What would you do as a local politician faced with an impossible choice of cuts?

    Playwright Jack Thorne's latest work 'Hope' poses the question to audiences
    Ed Harcourt on Romeo Beckham and life as a court composer at Burberry

    Call me Ed Mozart

    Paloma Faith, Lana del Ray... Romeo Beckham. Ed Harcourt has proved that he can write for them all. But it took a personal crisis to turn him from indie star to writer-for-hire
    10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    Festive treats: 10 best stocking fillers for foodies

    From boozy milk to wasabi, give the food-lover in your life some extra-special, unusual treats to wake up to on Christmas morning
    Phil Hughes head injury: He had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Phil Hughes had one weakness – it has come back to haunt him

    Prolific opener had world at his feet until Harmison and Flintoff bounced him
    'I have an age of attraction that starts as low as four': How do you deal with a paedophile who has never committed a crime?

    'I am a paedophile'

    Is our approach to sex offenders helping to create more victims?
    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    How bad do you have to be to lose a Home Office contract?

    Serco given Yarl’s Wood immigration contract despite ‘vast failings’
    Green Party on the march in Bristol: From a lost deposit to victory

    From a lost deposit to victory

    Green Party on the march in Bristol
    Putting the grot right into Santa's grotto

    Winter blunderlands

    Putting the grot into grotto
    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?' London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital

    'It just came to us, why not do it naked?'

    London's first nude free runner captured in breathtaking images across capital