Joe Jackson, "Fast Forward" (Work Song/Caroline)
Joe Jackson knows it's a big world and on "Fast Forward," his return to pop songwriting, he has bridged the Atlantic Ocean to record four songs each in New York, Amsterdam, Berlin and New Orleans.
Backed by different musicians in each city, "Fast Forward" is held together by Jackson's still-clear voice, congenial piano-playing and sharp compositions.
The longest song on the album, the six-minute "Fast Forward" muses about generation gaps and modern life, how "Everyone is a genius, but no one has any friends," all amid a yearning Regina Carter violin solo.
In the New York section, a cover of Television's "See No Evil" has Bill Frisell's torrid solo masterfully evoking Tom Verlaine's original, adding his own twists. The returning Graham Maby, Jackson's longtime bass player, and drummer Brian Blade complete a dream team.
In Berlin, Jackson turns to his angry not-so-young man persona on "Junkie Diva" and "If I Could See Your Face." The first is an unnecessarily harsh dirge about Amy Winehouse in which her death holds no lessons. In the second, Jackson takes on Islamic extremism and honor killings. "Good Bye Jonny," a 1938 German cabaret song, brings proceedings to a halt, with Jackson needlessly stretching his vocals to accommodate melodrama that feels out of place with the rest of the tracks.
In contrast, the quartet of tunes recorded in New Orleans with members of Galactic glides by with power and plenty of local zest, even if it's Beethoven being quoted instead of Professor Longhair on "Ode To Joy."
Varied, mostly tight and melodic and with few dips thanks to great musicians in each setting, "Fast Forward" makes you hope Joe Jackson won't wait another seven years for his next tour de force.