Grace Jones - Hurricane Dub

by Niall O'Conghaile Rating:9 Release Date:2011-09-05

Dub - you either like it or you don't. It's pretty simple. In fact, it's so straightforward that you can probably make up your mind to liking this album (or not) based solely on the title. To some ears dub is the pinnacle of music production from the 20th century. To others it's boring, wishy-washy stoner music. And I'm not talking about dubstep, or any of the other myriad dub-influenced genres like dub disco, trip-hop, ambient or jungle. I mean the effects-heavy, fader-flipping, desk-wrecking real deal that can trace its roots right back to the mixing consoles of Lee Perry and King Tubby in 1960s Jamaica.

Grace Jones' Hurricane Dub is the real deal, and make no mistake. This is no two-bit 'remix' album with additional verses by Fo Rida and Nicki Minaj, or a $50,000 club banger from David Guetta. There's no pandering to dubstep or other modern fads here - nothing new has been added to any of the original songs, but their individual tracks have been worked far beyond the normal mixing process by producer Ivor Guest, with lashings of echo, reverb, flanging and phasing on practically everything. This is dub as it was originally envisioned - basically a remix process dedicated to making the original music weirder and more atmospheric. And Grace Jones has impressive form in this area - or should I say the Compass Point All Stars - just check out the dub versions of 'Private Life', 'Pull Up to the Bumper' and 'She's Lost Control' on YouTube.

Very little of Jones' actual vocals remain on Hurricane Dub, and while to some this may come as a blessed relief, even to the die-hard Jones fan like me it's a bit of a mixed blessing. It relegates Jones to second fiddle to the music - her rich, husky baritone occasionally dipping in and out with little phrases and hooks to remind us that this is indeed her album. But the tracks are freed up from the constraints of merely being backing to reveal some immaculate drumming and some pretty inspired arrangements. The mixing is excellent too, with echos swooshing in and guitar hits jumping out so perfectly as to suggest a digital mix, but losing none of the all-important, thick-as-treacle, analogue atmosphere.

And atmosphere is what it is all about - the best dub records make you feel like you are right there in a boiling hot, darkened room, peering through a thick haze of acrid smoke to a dripping wet jungle just beyond your reach. Well, Hurricane Dub has that kind of atmosphere in spades. Individual songs float in and out of the mix providing only a skeletal reference points to booming bass, snapping rim shots and an abundance of squeaks, bleeps and the kind of sounds you might hear zooming past your shuttle on a weekend getaway to Mars. And this is what I meant by saying you'll either like it or you won't - there's very little midway with dub, you'll either get bored and put off within the first tune, or you'll leave the whole record on and luxuriate in the intricate soundscape. There are a couple of moments when the individual songs still shine through enough to mark them out from the continuous flow - 'Devil Dub' with its almost-modern synth baseline, 'Cannibal Dub' which makes great use of Jones' snarling, anti-capitalist monologues and 'Love You to Life Dub' just for its recognisable vocal hook that pops up now and again.

But this is also part of the problem - not the music itself you understand, which is excellent, but that it actually makes you focus on what Jones was bringing to the actual Hurricane recordings. The original record was a bit under-whelming to me to be honest, and while there were some incredible tracks like 'WIlliam's Blood' which went into previously uncharted autobiographical territory, there was just too much filler. And while I get that the Sly & Robbie-style reggae focus of the tracks harked back to those original, classic Compass Point albums from the early 80s, the original Hurricane lacked the experimental spirit that saw the influence of new wave, disco, punk and other then-modern genres, and that made those albums so special (particularly the original Compass Point trilogy of Warm Leatherette, Nightclubbing and Living My Life).

And here's another thing - why were all the tracks on Hurricane originals? Have the rates gone up for the rights to cover modern pop songs? Because if there is one thing that Grace Jones really excels at, it's interpreting other people's work. Just think of her version of The Pretender's 'Private Life', for example. Oh, you didn't know it was by Chrissie Hynde? That's because Grace owns it. She can even bend a chanson classic like 'La Vie en Rose' to suit her own twisted imaginings. So it was a bit of a disappointment that Hurricane didn't play up to Jones' strengths and include more songs form the modern pop cannon. Just imagine what she could do with the gender-bending stomp of Franz Ferdinand's 'Michael', the pseudo-sleazy kitsch of Kings of Leon's 'Use Somebody' or even the bitter lament of Adele's 'Rolling in the Deep'...

But I digress. Reflecting on what Hurricane could have been in no way detracts from just how good Hurricane Dub is. There has been a small revival of the dub-version album of late with releases from Franz Ferdinand and Steve Mason, but Hurricane Dub deserves to stand as an album in its own right, a lá Massive Attack's No Protection. Taken as part of the Grace Jones catalogue, Hurricane Dub is pretty decent - taken in its own right, however, it's excellent.

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