Article image

Title: Grace Jones: Island life
Author: Donald McRae
Source: NME
Publish date: 7th December 1985

The many acts of Grace

GRACE JONES Island Life (Island)

BETWEEN GRUBBY city wall posters of Madonna and Scraping Foetus Off The Wheel, The Grace Jones Face slots in smoothly, even though the collective eyes of frozen bus queues and the sideways stares of others rushing past are always drawn back to those standout features — the elongated pink mouth, ferocious white teeth, taut black skin and that immaculately asymmetrical head of hair.

This is the Adman’s guile at its glossiest; a Hall Of Mirrors reflection that’s meant to amaze, amuse and, primarily, to shift ZTT product. But everyone looks again because, more than just a clever marketing ploy, this is Grace Jones — fashion face, danger woman, pop icon, destroyer of Conan, etc, etc.

This recent ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ poster-picture is also one of 20 Grace Jones images decorating the inside sleeve of the ‘Island Life’ compilation. Besides being visually stunning, the different pictures uncover the edge that’s always made this “coal-black” celebrity’s contived image one of pop’s most imaginative and radical. From the ‘78 photographs of her at Roseland where she’s both a conquering boxer and locked behind a “do not feed the animal” cage, through the chilled sophistication of the ‘Nightclubbing’ cover, the cardboard cut-out haircut of ‘Living My Life’ to this year’s ‘Slave To The Rhythm’ scream, her Look has retained an identity and strength which is far removed from, say, Holly Johnson’s white gloves or Madonna’s black lace bra. As the sleevenotes suggest, Grace Jones’ “style” has always been distinctive and ambivalent enough to slink and sneer “somewhere between Simone Signoret and Muhammed Ali”.

Separating Grace Jones even further from her “contempories” is her music which, like this perfectly moulded image, draws from so many different sources that it is able to slide in and out of any “music-biz” box it chooses. Where most record companies would’ve attempted to dull this diversity by resorting to rigid categorisation, Island were perceptive enough to emphasise the stylistic and musical contrasts which have always been at the core of Grace Jones’ commercial and aesthetic success.

So her sound could explore anything and everything from disco and reggae rhythms to Roxy Music and Joy Division covers whilst being played in hi-tech discos, kebab joints, at hipster parties, on Ford Escort tape decks and, eventually, even on the radio. Her “crossover” should be revered because she exposed Sly Dunbar’s and Robbie Shakespeare’s deep reggae bass and drums rhythm to the unsuspecting Babycham and reactionary radio set. Similarly, she was able to prove to aspiring, alternative r’n’r groovers that a dance/disco beat is as “primal” as any rock riff.

‘Island Life’ begins with the ten-year-old, but still great ‘La Vie En Rose’, with her voice and the song’s sound as cool and fresh as when they were first heard. ‘I Need A Man’ and ‘Do Or Die’ have worn less well and their ‘70s disco melodrama seems almost puny.

‘Private Life’, ‘I’ve Seen That Face Before’, ‘Love Is The Drug’, ‘Pull Up To The Bumper’, ‘Walking In The Rain’ and ‘My Jamaican Guy’ are all from her most crucial ‘Warm Leatherette’ / ’Nightclubbing’ / ‘Living My Life’ period — these songs resonate with rhythmic intensity and sublime melodies.

‘Island Life’ is a great compilation of the familiar, but still strange, Grace Jones faces and sounds.