Part of the Backlot series from A&M featuring newly-designed artwork, digital remastering, unreleased tracks and extensive liner notes. Tracks include “Is She Really Going Out with Him?,” “Look Sharp!,” “Sunday Papers,” “Steppin’ Out,” “Nineteen Forever” and more, plus live versions of “A Slow Song” and “Memphis.”
1982 will forever be known as the year that the punks got class – or at least when Joe Jackson and Elvis Costello, rivals for the title of Britain's reigning Angry Young Man – decided that they were not just rockers, but really songwriters in the Tin Pan Alley tradition. (Graham Parker, fellow angry Brit, sat this battle out, choosing to work with Aerosmith producer Jack Douglas instead.) Both had been genre-hopping prior to 1982, but Jackson's Night and Day and Costello's Imperial Bedroom announced to the world that both were "serious songwriters," standing far apart from the clamoring punkers and silly new wavers. In retrospect, the ambitions of these two 27-year-olds (both born in August 1954, just two weeks apart) seem a little grandiose, and if Imperial Bedroom didn't live up to its masterpiece marketing campaign (stalling at number 30 on the charts without generating a hit), it has garnered a stronger reputation than Night and Day, which was a much more popular album, climbing all the way to number four on the U.S. charts, thanks to the Top Ten single "Steppin' Out".
In his 1999 memoir, A Cure for Gravity: A Musical Pilgrimage, Joe Jackson writes approvingly of George Gershwin as a musician who kept one foot in the popular and one in the classical realms of music. Like Gershwin, Jackson possesses a restless musical imagination that has found him straddling musical genres unapologetically, disinclined to pick one style and stick to it. The word "chameleon" often crops up in descriptions of him, but Jackson prefers to be thought of as "eclectic." Is he the Joe Jackson he appeared to be upon his popular emergence in 1979, a new wave singer/songwriter with a belligerent attitude derisively asking, "Is She Really Going Out with Him?" The reggae-influenced Joe Jackson of 1980's Beat Crazy? The jump blues revivalist of 1981's Joe Jackson's Jumpin' Jive? The New York salsa-styled singer of 1982's "Steppin' Out"? The R&B/jazz-inflected Jackson of 1984's Body & Soul? Or is he David Ian Jackson, L.R.A.M. (Licentiate of the Royal Academy of Music), who composes and conducts instrumental albums of contemporary classical music such as 1987's Will Power and 1999's Grammy-winning Symphony No. 1? He is all of these, Jackson himself no doubt would reply, and a few others besides.
A brilliant, accomplished debut, Look Sharp! established Joe Jackson as part of that camp of angry, intelligent young new wavers (i.e., Elvis Costello, Graham Parker) who approached pop music with the sardonic attitude and tense, aggressive energy of punk. Not as indebted to pub rock as Parker and Costello, and much more lyrically straightforward than the latter, Jackson delivers a set of bristling, insanely catchy pop songs that seethe with energy and frustration.