The Outer Marker Album reviews.
Release Date: 03.02.04
Record label: TVT
Genre(s): Rap, Hip-Hop, R&B, etc.
Sympathy for the Geezers
by: matt cibula
Sadly for Jack Allsopp, he's always going to be compared to Mike Skinner; his Just Jack album just sounds too much, to American ears, like The Streets' Original Pirate Material. So I'll just say that upfront to get it out of the way.
Hey, I don't want to penalize Jack for "unoriginality" or any kind of boring concept like that – hey, if you borrow from someone else and do it better, I say go for it in a heartbeat. And it's not like I'm the biggest Streets fan in the first place. So my hopes went up when I heard the first track here, "Let's Get Really Honest," with its 10cc sample and its emo hard-guy lyrics about how he'll be fine without her but she's pretty cool nonetheless but if he's honest he'll get along, he repeats it enough so that we know it's burning him up inside, just like 10cc's "I'm Not in Love," really quite nice and sublime.
But then we start to hear some tracks that are just too Skinnerian for words. The heavy-Brit rap accent doesn't do much for the verses of "Paradise (Lost and Found)": "So many fucked-up souls in this locality / I need the choice of some relative banality" is just too enunciated, too calculated, too Streets, and the chorus isn't strong enough to be repeated about 498 times. (Although "the freaky carbuncle" is my new favorite phrase for realz.) And then, in "Lesson One," Just Jack pulls out all the stops: "It's hard sometimes trying to be a geezer / A good bloke / With five pints down at the local pub / and laughing at filthy jokes" is straight-up textbook OPM, and the very idea that I have to feel bad for a guy because he says and does things he's not proud of just to keep up appearances…well, let's say I'm not in junior high school anymore.
But there is beauty here, plenty of beauty to offset the semi-regular lyrical corniness. "Heartburn" has a pretty little funk groove going on, with Allsopp slipping into a Pet Shop Boys melodic mode. "Contradictions" sounds like its closest relative is the techno-Tijuana sounds of the Nortec Collective, with a big fat honking tuba; "Triple Tone Eyes" is like New Order, except with heart-on-sleeve lyrics that swim in sentimentality instead of pretending to be a robot; "Snowflakes" does that repeating-the-chorus thang too, but it has some real spine underneath it.
And then, when he shakes free of all his influences entirely, like on the very strange hip-hop piece "Eye to Eye," Jack sounds his best, with a weird stiff rap and some very ebby/ flowy synth backing. But it's pretty difficult to do that all at once, as can be seen in "Ain't Too Sad," which is basically Doves and the Byrds and the Who and Blur all at once, but never coalescing into anything in particular – it's like salad dressing that never comes together because no one ever stirred it enough. And lyrics like "And then we shared a Kodak moment / Before getting back in her car" do not help one bit, even when he's got the great "Why am I cryin' all the time" refrain at the end
But Just Jack is still learning, still trying new things, and still wanting total world domination. And I guess I'm saying, "sure, that'd be fine." Everyone knows that the revolution always begins in the Streets…maybe, with some hard work and some ambition, Just Jack can turn his revolution into something beautiful and worthwhile. 30-Mar-2004 8:45 AM