by Roger Wink
Let me just say up front that I'm a big fan of Joe Jackson. I think that his genre hopping albums have been at times brilliant and I rarely dislike anything he has released.
I won't say The Duke is a terrible album as there are a few tracks that stand out but, overall, the mixed bag left me pretty disappointed, longing for a clever and eclectic Jackson versus this mishmash.
The Duke is Jackson's reimagining of the music of Duke Ellington, covering fifteen of his better known songs over ten tracks. The opener, Isfahan, has been dismissed by some as "elevator music" but, to me, is probably the best instrumental on the album, very atmospheric and with Jackson's signature piano playing.
On the other hand, the second cut (Caravan) is a mess, taking one of Ellington's most recognizable songs and giving it an unnecessary rhythm and instrumentation that, at times, makes it almost unrecognizable.
The best cuts on the album are handled by guest vocalists, including a marvelous Sharon Jones (I Ain't Got Nothin' But the Blues) and Lilian Vieira of the group Zuco 103 on Perdido. Unfortunately, Jackson himself doesn't fare as well. He's great on I'm Beginning to See the Light but falls far short on a Mood Indigo that sounds, at times, like a New Orleans funeral dirge.
The worst of the tracks is left for the end with Jackson and Iggy Pop trading vocals on It Don't Mean a Thing (If It Ain't Got That Swing). It's not the vocals that are bad, it's the constant sampling that makes it sound like a close cousin to Falco's Puttin' on the Ritz.
Outside of a couple of standout tracks, this is a real mess. One of the big disappointments of 2012.