Joe Jackson appears on the cover of his 1979 sophomore album, I’m the Man, as a “spiv”: a British term for a peculiar kind of petty criminal “always trying to sell you a watch or something like that, real cheap,” in the artist’s words. But Jackson didn’t have to resort to any cheap come-ons to hawk I’m the Man, a solid follow-up to his impressive debut Look Sharp! which arrived just months after that seminal release. Despite the quick turnaround, I’m the Man hailed from the same inspired period of songwriting for Jackson while building on its predecessor’s sound. It’s been newly reissued on vinyl by Intervention Records in an exquisitely remastered edition that allows Jackson’s “new wave” anthems to be heard anew.
Like Look Sharp!, the album showcases the work of producer David Kershenbaum and Jackson’s original band. The quartet would only last for one more LP (1980’s Beat Crazy) but would reunite in the 2000s. The propulsive, jittery bass playing of Graham Maby and the assured, confident drumming of Dave Houghton anchor the taut guitar licks of Gary Sanford as well as Jackson himself on piano and melodica. The sparse instrumentation yielded a powerful, often tense, and potent sound, presented here in full fidelity and crisper than ever on Intervention’s new vinyl reissue.
Much like Elvis Costello (to whom Jackson has often been compared for the musical similarities in their earliest albums), Jackson had an original lyrical voice tethered to catchy melodies as played in a breakneck punk-meets-pop style. These “angry young men” quickly shed that tag (one which they both understandably despised for its reductive nature), but their early albums still possess a visceral power and urgency that can’t be denied. That much is clear on I’m the Man from the opening track, “On Your Radio.” It’s one of those “look at me now” songs that occupy a peculiar position in pop; disparate artists from B.J. Thomas (“Send My Picture to Scranton, PA”) to Ben Folds (“One Angry Dwarf and 200 Solemn Faces”) have one, with varying qualities from empathy to bile. “Radio” introduces a diverse collection of songs from various viewpoints. “Don’t Wanna Be Like That” also has Jackson in caustic mode with the album’s most snarling vocal.
“It’s Different for Girls” went a long way in establishing Jackson’s original voice as a sharp and pointed social commentator (there are flashes, too, on tracks like the light reggae-inflected relationship tale “Geraldine and John,” the moody near-ballad “Amateur Hour” and the story of what happens on “Friday”) with its role-reversal twist and lyrical deviation from the expected – as the girl in the song is the one seeking instant gratification while the guy is searching for something more in their relationship. Though it “bubbled under” the Billboard Hot 100 at No. 101, it became Jackson’s most successful U.K. single, at No. 5.
The lead single in the U.S. was the bitingly humorous title track “I’m the Man,” which might well have been sung by the huckster of the cover photograph. The frenetic rocker has Jackson promising “I’ll speak to the masses through the media/And if you got anything to say it to me, you can say it with cash/’Cause I got the trash and you got the cash/So baby we should get along fine/So give me all your money ’cause I know you think I’m funny…” This barrage of words, set to a fast-and-furious freight train rhythm, sadly has proven all too prescient! There are various musical strains throughout the LP, including the hint of jazz that underpins “The Band Wore Blue Shirts.” Jackson cheekily subtitled “Kinda Kute” and “Get That Girl” as “A Pop Song,” and indeed, they both live up to that description while having the same unbridled energy as the tracks surrounding them.
Intervention Records has once again produced a top-notch vinyl reissue that should prove appealing not just to the audiophile market but to anyone looking for a favorite album in unparalleled sound. There’s tremendous presence on this clear, clean and quiet analog reissue, remastered from a ½-half-inch safety copy of the original stereo master by Kevin Gray at Cohearant Audio and pressed at RTI. Surrounding Jackson, Houghton’s drums practically jump from the speakers, while Maby’s bass and Sanford’s guitar are equally well-defined in the balanced soundstage.
Impressive as the sound is, the packaging is comparably excellent. The Stoughton-printed jacket is a heavy-cardboard single-pocket gatefold with high gloss; the vinyl with replica A&M Records labels is, of course, housed within a protective inner sleeve. Intervention’s I’m the Man is a perfect way to reacquaint yourself with this edgy classic from a young artist with a lot to say. Happily, the label promises that Look Sharp! as well as Jackson’s biggest commercial success, Night and Day, are on the way in similarly lavish editions. One has no doubt they’ll look, as well as sound, sharp!
- On Your Radio
- Geraldine and John
- Kinda Kute
- It’s Different for Girls
- I’m the Man
- The Band Wore Blue Shirts
- Don’t Wanna Be Like That
- Amateur Hour
- Get That Girl