FLASHBACK FRIDAY (ARTIST EDITION): Beat Spacek reflects on Grace Jones, ‘Island Life’

Words by Steve Spacek

If I’m honest, I haven’t got a favourite album. Too much great music to consider in the grand scheme of tings anyway! But I have to admit, there is one album that I keep on coming back to every few years- for whatever reason.

That record is Island Life by the great Grace Jones.

Released in 1985 on Island records. This album was a compilation record that represented the first decade of her career in music. Easily one of her best-selling albums, there’s many heaters on this record, all extremely timeless and effortless in execution.

I’m not going to go through the whole record here, but instead I’ll pick out a handful of my faves.

For me, the pinnacle is Private Life off the album Warm Leatherette, originally written by Chrissie Hynde. What a track and where to begin. I suppose we can start with the riddim section, be rude not to! Sly ‘n Robbie. There, I said it. These boys absolutely rinse this record – particularly on this track.

Of course these guys lay it down live, but with that punchy, programmed rhythm and bass section, it displays across the whole record. Absolutely metronomic in their feel and touch; a reggae music standard of course, but combine this approach with the super contemporary vibes busting from Miss Jones, and you have a combination and juxtaposition designed and crafted in that place they call heaven!

Most of the album could easily be summed up this way. In particular, there is a section near the end of Private Life where Sly Dunbar goes into a double-time riddim whilst the guitarist flexes with a tasteful solo. I’m certain that even if you are not familiar with Grace Jones’ work, you will be familiar with this track and that double-time solo section. I’m wagering most would be able to hum along without even realising they know this music. Absolute magic! Top it off with Graces fully avant-garde approach to the vocals and writing style and for me you have musical nirvana right there.

Next track. I’ve seen That Face Before, from the album Nightclubinng. Accordion is the word that springs to mind along with the dude with the horizontal stripe tee, riding along on his bike, Eiffel Tower in the background! On a production level, to be able to combine the accordion with the
reggae rhythm section along with Graces style in such an effortless manor is pure genius! Anyone else attempting such a combination might find it hard not to end up with corn on the cob – not here
though. This shit is so right and so kool it hurts! On vocals, Grace combines her usual leftfield approach with some lyrics cheekily sung in French with touches of patois. On some propa international flex! Back to that accordion: the way it staccatos with rhythm section – especially the hats – once again genius as a means of subtly enhancing the overall groove and flow of the track.

Walking in the Rain is next, also from Nightclubbing. This one always reminds me of a James Bond theme tune, probably as the chord progressions are not too dissimilar to the main melody/hook in the classic 007 soundtrack. Some really tasteful synth work links up the sections in a manner both subtle and expansive. Then, there’s the rocked out hook/turnaround sections, a really nice juxtaposition to the main groove. Once again, the drum and the bass sections being held down propa by Sly ‘n Robbie. These guys heavily influenced the sound and feel of this amazing collection
of tracks!

Hey I could go on and on if you let me with this seminal work! Nightclubbing went even further with Pull up to the Bumper. For some strange reason I’ve always found this one the most obvious on a groove tip. Always sounded like some straight up funk to me. I think that was just me being naïve and not really getting the juxtaposition within the general vibe of the track, but now it makes pure sense. The intricacies within the interplay between the guitar and synth’s call ‘n response, and the tip and the trotting horse-style percussion is just so moreish and tasteful.

There’s a serious ridding section Nightclubbing, from the 1981 album of the same title! Quite dark in its atmosphere with plenty of space, the sick bass line is cheekily ghosted by the piano. For some strange reason, the groove on almost has a kind of comical vibe to it… Like something UK ska outfit Madness might have used somewhere down the line. Grace’s vocal approach as a real Wizard of Oz-level command, and you just know that this lady has lived, and would have seen some serious nightclubbing in her time too.

A few years back, myself along with some Bondi Beach fam manage to catch Grace Jones live at the Domain, a cool outdoor spot for live shows somewhere near Sydney’s Botanical Gardens. Suffice to say, she along with her band absolutely smashed it to pieces! The whole show was tight as and sounded exactly like the studio recording, mixed with the absolute best aspects of a live performance. She blew my mind with Hurricane; she came out with a bowler hat covered in sequins. She had a laser pointed at said hat where the beam split into a thousand rays, shooting off in all directions.

A truly next level, timeless artist, straight outta Jamaica, reppin’ future music effortlessly! Island Life is one of my all-time favourite recordings, and Grace Jones right up there as artists go for me! If you’ve never had a chance, def go buy and check it for yourself.

Beat Spacek will be performing an intimate one-off show at Oxford Art Factory next Friday, November 20, in support of his new project iOS Mixtape. Click here for tickets and here for more details.