Joe Jackson thinks about 10 percent of music is really good stuff

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN THE GEORGIA STRAIGHT, AUG. 21, 2003

By Steve Newton

If you liked catchy, hook-infested pop-rock back in 1979, there’s a good chance you tapped a toe or two to Joe Jackson’s debut album, Look Sharp!. From the cynical hit single “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” to the postpunk rave-up “Got the Time”, the LP with those funky, pointy-toed shoes on the cover was a hot property.

The then–24-year-old Jackson led a crack band composed of guitarist Gary Sanford, bassist Graham Maby, and drummer Dave Houghton, which had just formed in the summer of ’78. Who’d have thought that a quarter-century later, these four would reunite for a tour that visits the Commodore Ballroom on Sunday (August 24)? Certainly not Jackson.

“I didn’t really want to do a reunion,” the singer, songwriter, and keyboardist explains on the line from Atlanta. “I just thought the whole idea was cheesy. But then I started thinking ‘Well, what if we did a new album?’ ’Cause I had a bunch of songs, and surprisingly, it seemed like they would suit the band. So doing a new album was really the key to the whole thing; I don’t think any of us wanted to do it otherwise.”

The recording in question, Volume 4, was released last March, boasting 11 new Jackson originals that embody the bouncy, melodic pop-rock and patented geek-outsider lyrics of his heyday. The CD also includes a bonus disc recorded live in England that, on sprightly versions of “I’m the Man” and “One More Time”, shows the quartet to be as sharp as ever on-stage. Kinda makes you wonder why Jackson put the band out to pasture in 1980, doesn’t it?

“There’s not much of a story there, to be honest,” he says. “Dave the drummer just wanted to get off the road—for personal reasons, basically—and I felt at the time that maybe that was an opportunity to give it a rest and do something different, and I suppose I just kept on doing that.

“You know, I never thought of reuniting the band,” he reiterates. “I always felt like the past is the past, and nostalgia is a dangerous thing. Nowadays I feel like nostalgia’s okay in moderation; it’s a bit like any kind of drug or drink or whatever.”

Before barging onto the music scene in ’79, the classically trained Jackson had studied at London’s Royal Academy of Music and played in Britain’s National Youth Jazz Orchestra. But he didn’t see the move to guitar-driven rock as a dumbing-down.

“It depends how you do it,” he relates. “To me it’s all the same thing; it’s all music, you know. Duke Ellington once said that there’s only two kinds of music, good and bad, and I actually think he was wrong. I think there are three kinds of music: good, bad, and just sort of mediocre. About 60 percent of music is mediocre; it’s not offensive, but it’s nothing special. Then you’ve got a certain amount of absolute crap, and about 10 percent really good stuff. I mean, I don’t have a scientific basis for this theory, you know, but it just seems right to me, human beings being what they are.”

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