Joe Jackson - I'm The Man

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I'm The Man cover I'm The Man was Joe Jackson's second album (other than the stuff as the band Clark Kent, and I'm not even sure if they released any albums), and the last of his pure new-wave albums. After this his albums chameleoned through reggae/ska (Beat Crazy), jump/swing (Jumpin' Jive), sophisticated jazzy pop (Night and Day, Body and Soul, Big World), a symphony (Will Power), pop/rock (Blaze of Glory, Laughter and Lust), and most recently classical/art/show music (Heaven and Hell, Night Music). He also did a couple of soundtracks in there (Mike's Murder and Tucker).

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.

I'm The Man back cover 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.

Kung-fu, I've almost made it respectable.
You see I can't always get through to you so I go for your sons.
Skateboards, that was one of my good ones.
What's a few broken bones when we all know it's good clean fun?

On Your Radio is Joe's musical bronx-cheer to any people in his background who might have dissed him:

See me
Hear me
Don't you know you can't get near me,
You can only hope to hear me on your radio

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:

Ya make a guy feel humble
I make a fool of myself again
Ya make me trip and stumble
Just go dance by yourself again
I'll just watch
`Cause that's all I want to do
But remember
That I'm here with your drink
at my table for two
Cause you're kinda kute baby
Kinda kute baby
See you dance in your satin suit baby
When you move gotta sit right down
No competition with this kinda kutie around

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).

What the hell is wrong with you tonight?
I can't seem to say or do the right thing.
Wanted to be sure you're feeling right.
Wanted to be sure we want the same thing.
She said -- I can't believe it
You can't possibly mean it
Don't we all want the same thing?
Don't we?
Well who said anything about love?
No not love she said
Don't you know that it's different for girls?

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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