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I have been a fan through all of these styles, though I find the newest two to be less interesting. I actually think Joe's putting them out specifically to show that he's not a pop musician, even though I think his discography makes that point dramatically clear. I wish he'd drop the pretense and go back to making good pop/rock albums (any genre will do :-). In selecting I'm The Man for my desert island 10, I could just as easily have selected his first album, Look Sharp, as the musical style is identical, but I liked the second album just a tiny bit more.
The band on I'm the Man consists of Joe Jackson on vocals, piano, harmonica, and melodica, Graham Maby on bass, Gary Sanford on guitar, and Dave Houghton on drums. Maby and Houghton also do some background vocals. Though Joe is an excellent pianist, he doesn't show much of that talent here; for most of the album it's the trio playing and Joe singing. And some excellent angst ridden proto-punk singing it is. :-) Graham Maby has been Jackson's bassist through most of his albums, and he is my second favorite bassist (only Vic Wooten is better). Sanford and Houghton reappear on several of his later albums, but not as consistently as Maby. I think in all three cases, it's a matter of versatility; Maby was willing (or able) to play other styles of music, while Sanford and Houghton weren't as flexible. Whatever, all three play very well together on the first three albums.
The title track and On Your Radio got the most airplay in the U.S. I'm The Man is about the people (or one person according to the song) who bring you new trends and cash in on them, generally at your expense.
On Your Radio is Joe's musical bronx-cheer to any people in his background who might have dissed him:
I love this song and the message it conveys. When you think of it, many of the most innovative and creative people are the exact ones who are teased and ridiculed in school because they are different. I imagine Bill Gates can identify with this theme, for example. More recently, another excellent piano player focused band, Ben Folds Five, has done a similar song, One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces, which is even more sardonic and biting, if you can imagine that.
My favorite two songs on the album are actually consecutive songs on the CD, Kinda Kute and It's Different for Girls. On Look Sharp, every song concerned with love was very bitter in tone. Joe lightened up on a couple of the songs on this album, particularly Kinda Kute and Get That Girl. On the liner notes, he subtitled each of these as "(a pop song)", and that they are. But then, I've always been swayed by pop sensibilities. :-) Both songs are not enthusiastic about love, but at least hopeful:
It's Different for Girls is a song I can truly identify with; it's about not understanding women. I'm sure most of the guys out there have been in this situation at least once in their lives. You're out on a date with a girl that you thought you were getting along great with, but tonight everything you do or say just pisses her off, and she won't tell you why, or if she does, her explanation doesn't seem to make sense to you. Here's the first verse and chorus, where I've alternated italics (to indicate his lines) and non-italics (to indicate hers, as I see it anyway).
At the time this album came out I was in high school, and was just starting dating and had been in this situation and been totally clueless. This song brought some relief from that. I still don't understand women, but at least I know I'm not the only one. :-)
If you're interested, you can listen to samples of some of the songs here. If you really like it, you can even buy it there.
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