At the outset of her singing career, model-cum-actress Grace Jones was a musical product in the truest sense of the word, more or less invented by artist Jean-Paul Goude. When new wave became the dance-club staple around the turn of the decade, this glamorous disco diva sailed into the genre on an airbrush jetstream, performing slickly produced covers of mainstream modern material borrowed from Chrissie Hynde, Bryan Ferry et al., while mixing in a safe dose of thumped-up funk.
Warm Leatherette (named for the Normal’s pioneering 1978 new wave electro single, which she has the guts and insight to cover) was the first Jones disc to embrace this formula; Nightclubbing followed suit, utilizing songs by Iggy and Sting. The balance of this LP features a slightly more fluid vocal style than the monotone that rules the previous album.
Living My Life shows Grace maturing, escaping the restrictive machinations that had controlled her. The material allows more personality to show through, and songs like “My Jamaican Guy” and “Nipple to the Bottle” show the Sly-and-Robbie reggae rhythm team to be more into the music at this point. Island Life recaps her career to that point, compiling such tracks as “La Vie en Rose,” “Pull Up to the Bumper” and “Love Is the Drug,” adding “Slave to the Rhythm,” a new single taken from a subsequent album which was released almost immediately thereafter.
Some bizarre business dealings must have led to the one-off alliance of Island and Manhattan Records to jointly issue Slave to the Rhythm. Trevor Horn produced this outrageous, astonishing so-called biography, including inter-track recitations, recollections and interview bites and creating theatrically massive orchestrations. The songs — written by a collective of Horn, Bruce Woolley and others — aren’t intrinsically strong or interesting, but the ZTT Big Beat Colossus does such a job filling the grooves with beats, strings, horns, vocals, keyboards and god knows what else that the material counts for relatively little. But by the same token, Grace’s vocal contribution to this audio love fest seems disconcertingly expendable.
Returning to the real world for a relatively routine (but still Grace-ious) outing, Jones wrote Inside Story with Bruce Woolley and produced it with Nile Rodgers; her collaborators also played most of the LP’s music. The lyrics contemplate such offbeat-going-on-dada topics as “Hollywood Liar,” “Victor Should Have Been a Jazz Musician” and “Chan Hitchhikes to Shanghai,” while the music dully retreads various familiar late-’80s high-tech sounds. Grace’s voice is fine, but this is not one of her more invigorating records.
Continuing on a path back to dull rhythmic functionality, Jones attempts a surrender to the hit parade on Bulletproof Heart, employing David Cole and Robert Clivilles, the crass slicksters behind Seduction and C+C Music Factory, on three tracks. Her songwriting (in collaboration with co-producer Chris Stanley) has never been worse (“Crack Attack” sounds like the work of a gradeschooler ordered to write a poem against drugs); her awkward delivery only makes this bad scene worse.