#48: GRACE JONES - “NIGHTCLUBBING” (1981)

As riders go, sushi, oysters and three bottles of red wine is pretty luxe. But then, what else could be expected of Grace Jones? In preparation for this review, I did my research by having a sushi platter and a bottle of red. Pleased to confirm that you do feel like a hula hoop champion, even if you’re not mystically imbued with the skill thanks to cucumber maki. I’ve got everything crossed that this combination is the key to longevity because Jones shows no sign of slowing down. In her film Bloodlight And Bami, Sophie Fiennes follows Jones on her Hurricane tour, swinging her hula hoop round her hips whilst wearing a golden cat mask and belting out hit after hit. Her energy as a performer is undeniable, not only in its abundance but also in its sheer quality - she’s often described as a force of nature and for good reason.

Red wine and seafood aside, reading about Jones means wading through a lot of white male profiles that are simultaneously in awe of Jones but succumb somewhat to a lazy othering of her power. That she’s alien-like, murky territory indeed considering the racial and sexual undertones of these dynamics. But this is missing Jones’s significant contribution and artistry. Well before Bjork and Lady Gaga, there was Grace Jones. Her androgyny and dynamism appealed to the burgeoning queer scene in America, who have long adored her, but her defiance in the - sometimes literal - face of the media meant that she was too often branded an unruly, angry black woman. That’s certainly what I was aware of when I was younger, her May Day in A View To A Kill a slick, sexy femme fatale. 

The cover of Nightclubbing plays on these elements of Jones. Sharp lines of her buzz cut, Armani suit and determined gaze, the cigarette dangling from her lips. One of many controversial images created by her long-time lover, Jean-Paul Goude, who is known as having discussed his questionable attraction to and manipulation of images of black women, it is hard to reckon with Jones-as-model, due to this entangled use of her looks in someone else’s vision.

Listening to Nightclubbing though, there’s Jones speaking for herself. It is amazing to realise that so much of this album is made up of straightforward covers as everything feels like her own voice, in her own words. And what a voice. Sometimes sultry, sing-song pillow talk, other times Valkyrie declarations. What struck me about the album is how, well, slow it is. She wants to take her time. Grace by name and by nature. Grace Jones is an icon purely because she never saw a door she didn’t believe she could walk through, a room she didn’t belong in. That level of self-leadership without arrogance, solely justice, is something near divine.

Near the beginning of Bloodlight and Bami, Jones travels home to Jamaica, handing her mother a large silver hat box. Inside is an extravagant pink woven Philip Treacy creation. Jones watches her mother sing in church, the gift upon her head, juxtaposed with Jones on her own stage, her own hat a mix of crown and cape that only Treacy could design. As much as any one moment could crystallise Jones’s influences, watching her adoringly support her mother singing gospel comes close.

Jones breathes in from her many homes - Jamaica, New York, Paris - and breathes out her work. Distinctive and instinctive, Nightclubbing doesn’t feel out of place or even out of this world, instead simply flowing from the coolest grandma on the block. I’ll raise a glass and some sashimi to that.