38:40 / 76:06 min • Island • April 28, 2014
John Preston reviews
I, and thousands of others, have written extensively on Grace Jones 1981 seminal and unmatched masterpiece Nightclubbing. Riding in on enormous anticipation and excitement, the reissue of Nightclubbing has now finally been released. Delayed by nearly a decade, the remastered album proper, along with a disc of extras, really does now exist and it’s the additional tracks that every Jones fan has been getting worked up into a frenzy about since its announcement. 2 never-before released songs and 11 remixes, the majority of which are already available, make up this golden egg – but after all this time has it really been worth the wait?
There are 5 versions of ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’ here, everyone a re-edited or tiresomely stretched out variation on the superior original. All have been heard before with only the original instrumental track, confusingly called ‘Peanut Butter’ (Gwen Guthrie also has a track by this name also recorded at Compass Point with Sly and Robbie) being the one version not previously available on CD. Longer versions of ‘Use Me’ and ‘Demolition Man’, both the definitive versions, were previously available on the outstanding 1998 compilation Private Life : The Compass Point Sessions and ‘Walking in the Rain’, a CD first, is exquisite in its rattling and moody, synth doodling 7 minute long form. A real treat here and never before available in the UK is the alternate version of ‘Feel Up’. A fan-chased rarity, it includes completely different, re-recorded and far more dominant vocals and lyrics from the main album version. Always a confusing song although clearly about sex, this version is far more explicit in its message, “say you’re a man but you’re just still a boy, feel up here and not down there” instructs Jones to a boy who is first refereed to as 16 (“I’m two times that”) and then, more controversially, as 15 as the song progresses.
‘If You Wanna Be My Lover’ is an original song that has no writing credits and even a title that would have stood out like a sore thumb if it had made the original Nightclubbing track listing. It just doesn’t fit. One of the 2 unheard songs – and without doubt the lesser – it’s an odd mix of more mainstream stream disco lyrics over a gentle reggae shrug. “If you wanna be my lover, your anchor is too far out to sea…..you don’t invite me out to dinner in a crowd, if you wanna be my lover do it now,” growls Grace over sounds that are clearly used as a sounding board here but were then refined and tightened for later releases. The absolute jewel in the crown though is Grace’s version of Gary Numan and Tubeway Army’s ‘Me! I Disconnect From You’. Again, just compare song titles between this and ‘Lover’ and already anticipation is massive. This doesn’t disappoint. The house band are in fine form on a relatively straightforward rhythm track, but it’s Jones herself that snatches the song away from Numan. With its themes of alienation and paranoia, perfectly at home with Nightclubbing’s chilly but with blasts of intense heat aesthetic, Jones sings it in a way that expresses both vulnerability and horror and is a performance that ranks as one of her very best.
If you don’t already own the original album then this is the version that you should hear. The remastered version is cleaner and louder than before and the longer versions of ‘Walking in The Rain’ and the re-tread of ‘Feel Up’ are essential listening. It would seem, though, that the vaults were not exactly overflowing with unheard material – not necessarily a surprise as Jones does not conjure up images of an artist who is an obsessive perfectionist who would spend any additional hours in a recording studio unless absolutely required. The discovery of the Numan cover version is a thrilling one and that could and probably should have been on the album proper, which always felt short at just 9 tracks and a running time of a little over half an hour. Nightclubbing is Grace Jones definitive work and to be slightly disappointed in this as a reissue, given the time that it has taken to come to fruition, is in a way expected. You really can’t improve on perfection although this attempt is still commendable and if you still really haven’t heard it then I suggest you put some headphones on and be transported to the darkly glittering and razor sharp, nocturnal world of Grace.