The first time I really listened to a Grace Jones song was when Questlove tweeted a link to the song “I’ve Done It Again” back when he used to have time to do little twitter link DJ sets. That Marianne Faithful penned song with its chill chanteuse vibe and litany of trailblazing claims (first to cross the Mason-Dixon line; first to take a trip on LSD) made an impression. I immediately started grabbing every Grace Jones album I came across. It didn’t take me long to build a nice little Grace Jones collection, because for whatever mysterious reason she hasn’t experienced a resurgence in hipness, which means her records remain cheap and easy to acquire. Personally I think a singularly visionary and powerful model making offbeat club music with Sly & Robbie holding down the rhythm section is exactly the kind of thing that should be enjoying a rich life with a new generation of partiers and music lovers in 2016.
“Walking in the Rain” is a sonic treat. Fat bass line and wah-with-delay guitar act as a bed for Jones’s beat-like spoken vocals. Lyrically, the song highlights Jones’s androgynous style with lines like “feeling like a woman, looking like a man/sounding like a no-no, making what I can.” The sense of otherness is further explored in the song’s first verse: “Walking down the street, kicking cans/Looking at the Billboard, oh so bland/Summing up the people, checking out the race/Doing what I’m doing, feeling out of place.” But Jones’s detached, stately, delivery gives the impression of superiority (or at least confidence), not insecurity.
“Pull Up to the Bumper” is a classic club banger. The kind of song that not enough people still know so it won’t get the party started necessarily, but if you drop it once everyone’s warmed up they will all fall in love with it as they smile, sweat and bounce their stress and insecurities away. While “Feel Up” is a playful, mostly instrumental track with a heavy African influence in its playful guitar lines and repetitive rhythmic base.
Before I just list every song on this album and comment on how great the Sly & Robbie drum and bass work is on each track, can I just say that Sly & Robbie are the best throughout this album and every song benefits from their genius. The sonic palette for this album is so interesting. Reggae rhythm section with sparse and dirty new wave/punk influenced guitars and keyboards alternating between moody swells and one-finger mirroring of the melody. All in service of Jones’s limited but powerfully declarative voice.
With the daring mix of genres and styles within each track and the pedigree of musicians involved, it’s a wonder Grace Jones isn’t a hipster (very much for lack of a better word) favourite. And with Jones being a strong woman of colour who played with androgyny and power dynamics in her modeling work, while exploring ideas of otherness and fearless individuality in her music, I’m amazed she’s not a bigger feminist icon. At least not in my circle. Get on it, hipsters and feminists! As for you, hipster feminists, I don’t even know what to say to you.
Favourite Song: Walking in the Rain
Deep Cut: I’ve Done It Again
I put “I’ve Done It Again” on my second ever mix up on mixcloud. You can find it here.