Grace Jones

Warm Leatherette (Reissue)

It’s difficult to imagine now how much of a mindfuck Warm Leatherette was when it landed in 1980. Grace Jones was best known up to that point as a disco singer, having recorded three albums with Philly sound legend Tom Moulton, as well as as a Jamaican model based in Paris. Taking a song by Daniel Miller’s The Normal as title track, or recording a dubby version of Joy Division’s ‘She’s Lost Control’, would surely have caused cognitive dissonance in alternative music listeners, who might have hitherto imagined her internationalism being out of reach.

Portfolio and Fame were fine records, as was Muse, though the latter suffered from the insurgent and casually racist (and homophobic) Disco Sucks movement on its release in 1979. In her autobiography I’ll Never Write My Memoirs she said that disco was “as much an assault on the corniness and narrow-mindedness of rock as punk. Where it ended up was the fault of the white, straight music business, which drained it of all its blackness and gayness, its rawness and volatility, its original contagious, transgressive abandon.”

If Jones’ singing career looked over, then a superb trilogy isn’t a terrible innings. Fortunately she, and Island Records honcho Chris Blackwell, had other ideas. With Alex Sadkin co-producing with Blackwell, Grace set to work with Sly Dunbar and Robbie Shakespeare on what would eventually become known as the ‘Compass Point’ trilogy, named after the studio situated opposite a shack selling conch fritters in Nassau; Warm Leatherette was recorded there, followed by the immaculate Nightclubbing in 1981, and Living My Life the following year. Grace Jones would find her true voice during these sessions, figuratively and literally. Despite having become an urbanite in New York and then Paris, she still had the Williams’ Blood. Indeed one of the ways she discovers her attitude is by rediscovering her congenital patois, imbuing an authenticity to her new direction that has become a hallmark of the Grace Jones we know today.

“What I like about my voice is that it really cannot be duplicated,” said Jones herself to NME at the time. “No one else could do a song like Grace Jones, the way no one else could do a song like Billie Holiday,” concurred Barry (White) Reynolds, her guitarist through the Compass Point Allstars years.

Gone were the showtunes and the high notes, in came smart song choices and deep, semi-spoken articulation, savvy and androgynously sexy. Everything suddenly fell into place, with Jones’ authoritative voice melding perfectly with the assembled session musicians, who were incidentally put together for this project and then went on to play together for years. Grace’s image came together too, with the help of graphic designer boyfriend, Jean Paul Goude. The whole transformation was startling, and all for the right reasons.

Spread over four LPs, this Warm Leatherette box set is an exhaustive compilation that thankfully doesn’t dip in quality for the wealth of what’s on offer. For any Grace Jones fans this is as definitive as it gets, though it will take some serious powers of discernment to differentiate between LP one and LP two, perhaps for some added kick on the title track. In actual fact the difference, after checking the sleeve, is the omission of ‘Bullshit’ on the second album to allow all the other tracks to run for a minute or so longer. If you’re a fan of ‘Private Life’ then rejoice, for there are six different incarnations here, including the single version, the 12” single remix, the dub version and the long version.

But perhaps most exciting of all is the inclusion of the aforementioned ‘She’s Lost Control’ – the b-side of ‘Private Life’ – in three different formats. Grace brings menace to a track written by Ian Curtis about a girl he knew from the Department of Disability Services in Manchester who had a seizure and died. The song appeared in the studio at the end of the recording process; “we cut it really just to wind up the session,” said Jones in 1980. Although she knew nothing about Joy Division, she threw herself into the process with abandon, losing control herself and admitting she actually frightened herself.

One hopes Nightclubbing – this album’s successor and one of the greatest LPs ever made – will get a similarly thoroughgoing edition in the near future. To savour boundless takes of ‘Walking In The Rain’ and ‘I’ve Seen That Face Before (Libertango)’ is a tantilising prospect. But in the meantime there’s still plenty to rewind and luxuriate in here, and remember the finesse of Nightclubbing never would have occurred without this almighty mindfuck preceding it.

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