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June 1, 2014 | by  | in Arts Music |
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Nightclubbing: Better than Nightclubbing [Review]

The Grace Jones story is one marked by freneticism. After settling in New York by way of Jamaica and a brief stint in Paris, she pursued at once a modelling career, acting career and music career, proving herself appallingly adept at all three. In the modelling world especially, she blazed trails. Here was a classically beautiful model (seriously, look upon her cheekbones, ye mighty, and despair) who prefered to depict androgyny and felt more comfortable with angular, almost squarish poses than ones accentuating curves and delicacy.

Part of Jones’ appeal, I think, is that she bases herself around contradictions. This is emphasised in her seminal album Nightclubbing. This is an album wherein, as with the Beach Boys’ Pet Sounds, accessibility and pop nous is used deceptively. The pretty melodies, the fierce and groovy vocal runs, disguise something more troubling in the background. There’s loneliness and unease here too; the mechanical clang of ‘Pull Up to the Bumper’, the yearning of ‘I’ve Seen that Face Before’, and the deeply disquieting ‘Art Groupie’ in particular all give the listener pause even in the midst of grooving out.

And, lest I divert too much, groove out you can. The reissue treatment is spectacular. Though I was wary of the remastered version – after all, the slight muddiness is all part of its charm – it has clearly been done with great delicacy and fidelity to Grace Jones’ vision. Sly Dunbar and Robbie Coltrane’s work in the rhythm section is as mesmeric as ever, and Wally Badarou’s keyboards are goddamn perfect. But, fittingly, Grace Jones belongs at the centre. Her presence permeates every second of the album even when she’s not singing, and when she does – well. The vocals are impeccable and measured, whether she’s sultrily crooning or toxically bellowing, and placing them at the forefront doesn’t distract from the instrumentation but emphasises it.

As for the bonus tracks, it’s pretty much as per: there are a couple of gems, a good one that would have been utterly incongruous with the album, and a couple of clunkers. Ultimately, it’s the nine tracks that comprise the original Nightclubbing that prove essential listening even after all these years. Nightclubbing doesn’t just capture the ‘80s but has come, in popular discourse, to help define it in all its glory, hubris and disaster. A masterwork of both easy, and uneasy, listening.

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