Q Review

This review was in the UK music magazine "Q", it appeared in the August edition of 1998.

Public Life

Actress, singer, model, stropstress: she had the lot. Where did it all go?

Grace Jones
Private Life: The Compass Point Sessions
ISLAND 524 50I 2

As Geri Halliwell may find out, Dame Pop is a fickle minx. Here's proof. Look along the music shelves of any bookshop under "Jones". There'll be a swathe of Tom Jones biographies, some crackpot conspiracy theories about the death of Stone Brian, maybe a flimsy tome dedicated to Southampton spiketop Howard Jones or, better yet Walking In The Air Aled Jones: Ills Own Story-As Told To David Bland.What there won't be is anything about Grace Jones. Remarkable considering how iconic she was in the early and mid-'80s. As Newsweek noted at the time, She seems to be turning up everywhere: astride a blood-red Honda in a TV commercial, curtsying to the Princess Of Wales at the London premiere of A View To A Kill. In the July issue of Playboy, Jones and her Swedish boyfriend, Dolph Lundgren are splashed across the pages." She was in every 1 ligh Street exuding alien glamour on the posters for A View To A Kill: muscular, biting on her cigarette holder, back to back with Roger Moore above the worrying question "Has James Bond finally met his match?"

Well, clearly he hadn't. James is still going strong. Grace is now best remembered as the woman who belted a mild-mannered Giggleswick schoolteacher on telly one night back in Thatcher's first term. Russell Harty never quite recovered.

Born Grace Mendoza in Spanishtown, Jamaica, she grew up in Syracuse, New York, where her haughty attitude so asserted itself that a school report described her as "socially sick". Multi-lingual with an imposing physique she enrolled at New York's Wilhelmina Modelling Agency and began to act.

She moved to Paris and shared a flat with another young model Jerry Hall, where the two of them threw themselves into a partying and jet-setting lifestyle. It's hard to imagine them organising a washing up rota. She was one of the first black women to establish herself in haute couture and around the same time threw herself off a cliff after a lover she'd spurned - a cardinal - had killed himself. Jones, characteristically, suffered only a broken ankle.

AFTER A CLUTCH of failed disco singles for Polydor, she signed to Island who saw the commercial possibilities of an imperious, androgynous ebony diva in a pop climate increasingly obsessed with European retro chic and club culture. Her first three albums, Portfolio, Fame and Muse, caused narv a ripple of interest. Then, Island supremo Chris Blackwell, convinced of Jones's unusual cachet and marketability, encouraged an adventurous melding of reggae and the icy European sexiness implied by her unmistakable voice. Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare, then the world's hippest rhythm section, were hired for 1980's Warm Leatherette.

Practically all of it is included here. Indeed this set is a distillation of the trilogy of albums made between Spring 1980 and Winter 1982, recorded under the auspices of Blackwell at his newly built Compass Point studios in the Bahamas.

Warm Leatherette's four covers Found here illustrate the 9ood and bad in Jones's music. There's her corking version of The Pretenders' Pnvate Life, it's not only more sinuous but replaces Chrissie Hynde's unappetising sneer with a mood of weary detachment. Her Love Is The Drug, being jaded, sophisticated and heady, is no different from Roxy Music's original but still serviceable.

The title track, though, has dated excruciatingly. Whereas the original - bleakly primitive electropop by The Normal aka Mute Records founder Daniel Miller - still sounds disturbing and astringent, Jones's waddles along in an inappropriate two-step, Festooned in nasty power chords. It sounds like the work of someone with a profound grudge against Miller or Mute. Or pop music in general.

Similarly misconceived was the cover of Joy Division's She's Lost Control. Whereas Ian Curtis projected his mental distress onto an unspecified other and couched it in subtle, eerie phrases such as 'she expressed herself in many different ways', Jones bellows "I've lost control!" with the subtlety of a wounded elk. It's as penetrating and intelligent an insight into the shadows of mental illness as They're Coming To Take Me Away Ha -Haaa. When The Hunter Gets Captured By The Game is more enjoyable but you'd still be much better ofF with the gorgeous original Smokey Robinson wrote or The Marvellettes, several pounds lighter on its Feet and sans any enervating guitar solos. Nightclubbing, although only reaching Number 35, was a critical breakthrough. Co-producer Alex Sadkin hadworked with The 8-52's and this time the selection of covers included Iggy Pop's title track and The Police's Demolition Man. That latter is as unremarkable as the original but on Nightclubbing her dislocated delivery pays off and the slinky ambience works as well as the drug zombie stomp or the original. Walking In The Rain's air of existential languor is still seductive and the 'Feeling like a woman, looking like a man' line could have been written for her (rather than Flash & The Pan) by Vanda & Young but, Funnily enough, wasn't. Pull Up To The Bumper is cracking, although we should clear up the old canard about it being a "double entendre'. With hindsight, those lines about pulling "up to the bumper baby in your long black limousine and drive it in between' probably don't refer to the gridlocked M5/M6 interchange.

The remaining tracks all come - bar one - From Living My Life which saw Jones turning away from the covers strategy with varying success. Cry Now Laugh Later is horrible. From The Nipple To The Bottle- "...and never satisfied...' is a neat phrase searching vainly for a tune. The Apple Stretching is one of those self-mythologising songs about New York, but it has an unexpectedly sweet chorus, Jones aspiring to Dietrich territory. The self-penned My Jamaican Guy still sounds great, from its unpredictable, jerking rhythm to the melancholic keyboard phrase.

THE COMPILERS OF Private Life have bent their own logic to include one more song: Slave To The Rhythm, the one truly great thing she did. Nothing to do with her, though; it was all down to producer Trevor Horn, at the top of his game back then. After Slave To The Rhythm her career faltered. In 1988, she and her children were dragged from an aeroplane after a misunderstanding'. A year later, she went on trial in Kingston charged with cocaine possession but was acquitted. She wound up bankrupt, $750,000 in debt and sued by American Express For S80,000 of it. Her relationship with mentor lean Paul Goude had long foundered and she rapidly married and divorced. After the failure of Inside Story, she moved to Capitol for Bulletproof Heart, and married again, this time to a Belgian student. She covered a Sheep On Drugs song and last year was scheduled to play Shepherd's Bush Empire. She cancelled. This May she turned 50. Until recently, there was a fine Grace Jones compilation on the shelves, Island Life, which got within a whisker of Number one in 1985, But still, this overlong anthology is a fitting, if quixotic, tribute to a very 'SOs pop star We can laugh at her now. But if and when Embrace punch Jo Whiley, will anyone care? ***
Stuart Maconie

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