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Ageing (dis)gracefully

An unspoken etiquette exists for rock stars who re-emerge after a long period out of the limelight. Their rehabilitation is dependent on appearing chastened, humbled and educated by their wilderness years.

They should be modest about their successes and sanguine about their failures. They are expected to have conquered their demons and to see a lot of their former selves in Amy Winehouse. They are required to retell stories from their dissolute glory days for the benefit of the journalist’s dictaphone and to offer assurances that such behaviour is firmly in their past, for the benefit of the record label executives who’ve given them another chance.

Among those recently given another chance is Grace Jones, promoting her first new album in 19 years. Her career didn’t exactly grind to a halt following 1989’s disappointing Bulletproof Heart — she continued performing live, but certainly in reduced circumstances.

The problem for her new collaborators isn’t just the usual comeback conundrum of making something that lives up to the back catalogue, although that’s a particularly tough call in Jones’ case, because her back catalogue has stubbornly refused to date. It’s the challenge of making an album that lives up to Jones herself at 60.

During Hurricane‘s best moments — all in the album’s first half — they come up with music befitting the uniqueness of their employer. The gripping opener, This Is, supports Jones’s voice, switching between a Jamaican-accented growl and her patent stentorian Nico-goes-disco style with a dancehall-inspired beat and squalls of Robert Frippish guitar. Corporate Cannibal devises a suitably weird hybrid of nu-metal and dub, with the distorted guitar pushed to the background and swamped beneath echoing electronic effects.

Equally, there’s the pleasing sense that she wants to push herself into new areas. Considering she spent the 1980s trying to convince the world she was from another planet, you learn a surprising amount about her upbringing from Williams Blood and I’m Crying (Mother’s Tears): the latter, for some reason, punctuating the moving saga of Jones’s relationship with her mother with the sound of someone squeezing a squeaky toy.

But after a tough, thrilling first half, Hurricane suddenly seems to run out of puff, as though exhausted by the effort of trying to keep up with its star. The sound of Tricky muttering away — and, at one stage, making a noise that sounds suspiciously like someone hawking up a greenie — can’t stop the title track from meandering. The more surprising musical hybrids are replaced by imitations of the reggae sound minted on the albums Jones recorded at Nassau’s Compass Point studios. It’s perfectly done, but marked by a creeping pointlessness: why would you put on Well Well Well or Love You to Life when you could listen to her peerless 1980 cover of Chrissie Hynde’s Private Life?

But, as we’ve already established, Grace Jones seems far too strange to adhere to the usual rules. —

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Alexis Petridis
Guest Author

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