CD Review: Joe Jackson

Rain Rykodisc
Music •••• Sound ••••

This stripped-down, piano-driven set would be a contender for the best non-rock album Joe Jackson has ever made, except that it rocks pretty often, even without guitars. Here's where his early-career bluster finally merges with his latter-day sophistication. Above all, Rain is a pop album, but some jazz and classical flavorings work their way in. And on "The Uptown Train," Jackson evokes New York without having to hire a roomful of percussionists.

Meanwhile, his original and still-best rhythm section brings a swift kick to even his trickiest writing. The heartfelt (if slightly neurotic) love ballads remain his ace in the hole. Yet we also get "Invisible Man," which employs a nifty metaphor to equate his post-hit career with the afterlife. The melody takes surprising turns, but when the punkish chorus comes in, it's definitely a Look Sharp! moment.

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