mon 04/03/2024

Album: Joe Jackson - Joe Jackson Presents Max Champion in What a Racket! | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Joe Jackson - Joe Jackson Presents Max Champion in What a Racket!

Album: Joe Jackson - Joe Jackson Presents Max Champion in What a Racket!

A note perfect music hall pastiche with a potent whiff of modernity

Joe Jackson: putting on the East End styleearMUSIC

Lord love a duck, Elsie, music all’s avin a bleedin’, whatchamacallit, comeback, innit? The release of Joe Jackson’s 19th studio album Joe Jackson Presents Max Champion in What a Racket! a week after Madness’s Theatre of the Absurd Presents C’est la Vie might prove the full extent of this revival. 

It's proof, however, that the working-class Victorian and Edwardian comic and sentimental song tradition – which flourished anew in the Thirties – offers fertile ground for re-pointed nostalgic humour and sly social observations.

What a Racket! is a long way from “Is She Really Going Out With Him?” and “Steppin’ Out”. The musicological magpie Jackson's latest collection is most reminiscent of his 1981 swing and jump blues Jumpin’ Jive LP in its heady revitalisation of a bygone style. 

Jackson has unearthed the forgotten Max Champion (1882-1914?), supposedly a relative of Harry Champion, the entertainer who rocked the pre-World War One East End with “Boiled Beef and Carrots”, “I’m Henery the Eighth, I Am”, and “Any Old Iron”. One looks in vain for Max’s name on music hall bills or sheet music sold on eBay, so Jackson’s “re-recordings” of 11 of his ditties with a 12-piece orchestra must suffice.

He’s done the lad proud. In a voice fruitier than Max's namesake Mr. Miller, Jackson croons and rasps his way through circa-1910 numbers about noise pollution, the timelessness of sex scandals, the hell known as morning, an outré Maltese whose individuality is sacrosanct, and – delivered in a mock-posh tone – “the theatuh” with its roar-of-the-greasepaint-smell-of-the-crowd vibe.

Frequently these laugh-out-loud songs subvert cultural expectations. “This Sporting Life” scorns the dirt and dangers embraced by the athletically inclined. “Dear Old Mum” serenades the long-gone Irish ma whose brood of 10 little "Paddies" starts to die off mid-song; she blamed her troubles on the English. 

The self-mocking “Shades of Night” is about a Peeping Tom who peeps through one window too many and ends up becoming a sailor – cue the finale “Worse Things Happen at Sea”. The thumping “Why Why Why” and the ironically jaunty anti-militarist march “Health and Safety” take an existential turn.

Jackson's arrangements feature galloping drums, snarling or blowsy brass, rousing choral parts, and the choppy strings and frantic piano chords of Victoria melodramas. This is a gem of a set, what they used to call a corker. Jackson plans to take it on the road next year, but it would also provide the foundation for a barnstorming musical, and not just down at the Old Bull and Bush.

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