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Old 08-23-2013, 03:07 PM   #1 (permalink)
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Default Joe Jackson - Big World (1986)

In the mid-80's Joe Jackson had a perception of what he wanted to release. He had put together a decent career up to this point with a few hit singles, most notably 1982's "Stepping Out". By the mid-decade his goal wasn't necessarily more singles, but a totally cohesive album that would be viewed as a whole rather that it's individual tracks. And he had a perception of how to accomplish this, he was going to find a way to blend the polish of the studio album with the ambient excitement and immediacy of a live album.

Toward this end, he took a different approach to 1984's Body And Soul. Most albums are recorded in studios with huge mixing consoles, such as this mid 1980's studio




...and the musicians record tracks individually in acoustically engineered rooms such as this




The individual tracks are then mixed together layer after layer. This can result in a highly polished final product but can also come off as sterile and dispassionate. For Body And Soul Joe Jackson would record the entire ensemble in the same live music hall, a major technical challenge considering that each performer's individual microphone would be picking up the other performers and there would really be no way to absolutely isolate them. The mixing process of Body and Soul turned out to be exceedingly difficult, and after all was said and done, Joe Jackson felt he had a good album but hadn't really achieved the cohesion or the live-studio hybrid he had envisioned.

So, the next project, that ultimately resulted in 1986's Big World, would become one of the most ambitious projects in the history of recorded rock music. He decided that what Body And Soul lacked was the actual feel of the presence of an audience, even though he didn't want the album to contain the typical cheering, whistling, woot-woot sounds of said audience. Big World would be performed at New York's Roundabout Theater over a span of several nights, in front of said audience who were asked to keep quiet immediately before, during and after the performance of each song. And this would present the single greatest technical challenge I know of in the history of rock recording. To my knowledge, Big World is the *only* rock album that was mixed *before* it was recorded, the 64 or however many recording tracks were mixed down directly to the stereo 2 track recording (with not a single overdub) that ultimately made the grooves of the vinyl album (which, I hasten to add, was a THREE sided album)




The result was exactly what Joe Jackson had envisioned, Big World is a live album that sounds for all the world like a studio recording, with the immediacy and energy of a live album, the perfect hybrid.

Another element that contributed to the lack of cohesion on Body And Soul was that the songs, while well written and performed, were just a collection of songs without any commonality of theme. Big World, while not a concept album, would contain songs with the shared theme that the album title would suggest.


The opening track, "Wild West", starts softly then BUILDS to a staggering level. Notice the crescendo in the opening minutes here, that is powerfully difficult to do on stage:




"Right And Wrong" was inspired by a speech by Ronald Reagan addressing the nation in support of the Nicaraguan rebellion...
"I've spoken recently of the freedom fighters of Nicaragua. You know the truth about them. You know who they're fighting and why. They are the moral equal of our Founding Fathers and the brave men and women of the French Resistance. We cannot turn away from them, for the struggle here is not right versus left; it is right versus wrong."
This song also stands out for the bass groove and Gary Burke's cowbell-driven drum beat (cue Christopher Walken...). This video is the actual performance that made the album:



Joe describes the premise of "(It's a) Big World" for us in the following YouTube, again the actual performance that made the record, exactly as it was recorded and mixed on stage. I love the pedal-octaved bass in the verses:




"Precious Time" is a quickly paced number, I can find no YouTube vids of this and Big World is not available on Spotify. The guitar drives "Precious Time", again you can hear it after you pick up the album & thank me then.

EDIT: Found it!




"Tonight And Forever" shares the brisk pace of "Precious Time", and also it's unavailability to post here. Again, love the clean-tone guitar work by Vinnie Zummo here. Thus concludes Side One.

EDIT: Found this one too!



Side Two opens with the gorgeous piano driven "Shanghai Sky" (which needles to say has changed CONSIDERABLY since 1986)




This is followed by "Fifty Dollar Love Affair" (I think we can all figure that one out. *ahem*). This is one of my favorite songs on Big World, so much so that when I found no YouTube video I uploaded it myself. Like "Wild West" there is a masterful contol of dynamics here, and I love the way that guitarist Zummo and Rick Ford's bass interact in the outro, with Ford's harmonics perfectly syncing with Zummo's playing




The brilliance of Side Two continues with "We Can't Live Together". Again with the gorgeous bass line, again with the clockwork tightness, again with the incredible dynamic range. Zummo's guitar solo here is just fecking unbelievable:





Then, Side Two concludes with quite possibly the best song Joe Jackson has ever written, about the way the former WWII allies, who danced and drank and celebrated their hard fought victory in the most cataclysmic conflict the world has ever known, had degenerated into bickering and squabbling, "40 Years" (bear in mind that this was still the Cold War era in 1986). This song sends shivers up my spine...





Side three opens with the fast-pace rocker, "Survival"





Then comes "Soul Kiss", this video replete with a feck-up and subsequent do-over, which again is the actual performance that made the record





Then "Tango Atlantico", I found this 1995 performance where Joe explains the premise of the piece, the audio quality is poor but the explanation is very interesting, I'm posting the topic video right after the story






The penultimate track on Big World is "Hometown", a song of recalling growing up and yearning for those carefree days before all the various complexities of adulthood. Again, the actual performance that made the record





Big World concludes with "Man In The Street", which wonders how we can possibly make whatever is wrong with the world right when the man in the street doesn't care"




This is a fitting end to Joe Jackson's masterpiece.
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Old 04-15-2014, 01:00 AM   #2 (permalink)
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I know this was a while ago but nice review Paul. Will have to check this album out. I only have his Night and Day album so I have been curious about his other work and you have certainly piqued my interest.
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Old 01-08-2016, 11:36 AM   #3 (permalink)
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Repaired broken link
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Old 01-29-2016, 08:32 AM   #4 (permalink)
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Love this album so much!
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Old 01-29-2016, 09:39 AM   #5 (permalink)
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Good write-up Paul. Quite the courageous and monumental task Joe set out for himself. I never knew anything about this and had only been exposed to a couple songs by JJ in the 80's, thanks to MTV. Funny thing is, when ever my disc golf throw goes into the weeds and I can't make the next throw because something is in the way, I'll always sing "Ooooo babe... ste-ppin oooouuut" as I step out of the weeds to throw.

True story.
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Old 04-11-2016, 09:46 AM   #6 (permalink)
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This review is now complete, found all previously unavailable YouTubes w00t
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Old 04-27-2016, 11:53 AM   #7 (permalink)
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I love Big World a lot, but my favorite album from Joe Jackson had to be "Jumpin' Jive!" It's so good!
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Old 05-19-2016, 10:05 AM   #8 (permalink)
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This is such an interesting post Paul, love Joe's voice.
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Old 08-30-2017, 11:18 AM   #9 (permalink)
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Very impressive review
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