Born in August 1955, Midlander Joe Jackson was a music college graduate (he studied piano at London’s Royal College of Music) and cabaret arranger before he discovered pub rock, nicked Elvis Costello‘s clothes and Graham Parker‘s vocal stylings, and hitched a ride on the New Wave.
His accomplished debut single, Is She Really Going Out With Him?, was not an immediate hit, but by the time the album Look Sharp was released, that song had reached the UK charts some months after nudging the US Top 20.
While Jackson’s first two albums – Look Sharp and I’m The Man – had a distinct power pop feel, the follow-up, Beat Crazy, started a trend of changing musical direction with each album.
The excellent Jumpin’ Jive was a throwback to the music of the 1940s, while Night and Day (1982) produced the superbly crafted pop song Steppin’ Out with its mantric bassline and crisp piano.
He struck out in a more rarefied jazz-Latin direction with Body And Soul (1984), and the triple-sided Big World (1986) preceded his most ambitious project, Will Power (1987), an entirely instrumental album in a neo-classical vein recorded with a symphony orchestra. It was an artistic triumph, no doubt, but it failed to dent the British Top 100.
While Jackson couldn’t have been surprised at the reduced commercial appeal of such material, he was beginning to feel a gathering sense of gloom about the lack of enthusiasm with which A&M, his record company since day one, was now handling his work. The crunch came with the relative failure of his 1989 album Blaze Of Glory, a collection which Jackson regarded, with some justification, as his best work ever.
When Jackson asked to be released from his contract, A&M acquiesced. He was cheered to find himself pursued by several companies but most keenly by Virgin America. The first fruit of the new association was Laughter And Lust (1991), an album as mainstream rock-friendly as anything Jackson had done since the glory days of Look Sharp and I’m The Man.
In 2003, Jackson reunited his original quartet for the album Volume 4 and a lengthy tour.
Having lived in New York for twenty years, he returned to Britain in 2005 – moving between London and his native Portsmouth – before moving to Berlin in Germany, where he recorded his eighteenth studio album, Rain, with longtime collaborators Graham Maby and Dave Houghton.
In 2015, Jackson announced the completion of his follow-up to 2012’s The Duke. The album’s title, Fast Forward, and track list were confirmed in addition to North American tour dates. The titular first single was released for streaming via his official SoundCloud page. The entire record was briefly posted before being taken down a day later.
On 18 January 2019, Jackson released the album Fool, preceded by the songs Fabulously Absolute, Strange Land and Friend Better. The album debuted in the US at #25 on Billboard‘s Top Album Sales Chart. In the UK, it entered the Indie Albums Chart at #13.