Followers of Jack know there are many facets to Anthony Reynolds: vocalist, poetic lyricist, frontman and co-founder of the band – with the versatile Matthew Scott – in 1994. The first two albums (Pioneer Soundtracks and The Jazz Age) got ecstatic reviews for their glorious, rich and melodramatic songs, with Velvet Underground, Japan and Charles Aznavour as reference points but a sound ultimately all their own.
Then there was Jacques, a Reynolds side project that also produced two albums (How to Make Love, To Stars) of much sparer, introverted material which showcased Reynolds seductive crooning to even greater effect and showed once again that he is a master of both the beautiful love song and the deadpan joke.
None of the albums fitted easily into any current genre and despite the rave reviews, didn’t sell well. Arguments with record labels and a somewhat unreliable stage presence haven’t helped build a big following, but there’s no doubt that those that love Jack love them a lot. Now, a new liaison with the Belgian label Les Disques du Cr�puscule may signal a new beginning. The End Of The Way It’s Always Been is produced and mixed by Matthew Scott at the band’s new label-funded studio in London and brings together the ebullience and verve of Jack with the gentle introspection of Jacques. As a bonus, it also adds something completely new to the mix.
The title track is quite simply extraordinary, a heavy futuristic funk (arranged by Scott) that grabs you by the scruff of the neck and drags you along as it builds in intensity. Heavy on samples and with a narrative by Kirk Lake, it’s exhilarating stuff. It leads into the second innovation, The Emperor of New London, a stunning drug-fuelled vision with a background of guitars, samples and hypnotic backing vocals. Here the voice is that of Dan Fante (son of American novelist John Fante, one of Reynolds longstanding influences) and his rendering of the classic line “I’m so fucking high death wouldn’t dare interrupt me now” is one of the many joys of the album.
What’s this, two tracks into the album and we’ve hardly heard Reynolds’ sultry voice? The remaining seven tracks correct that and are the more expected epic ballads and love songs. That’s the Way we Make It is more Jacques than Jack with it’s stately tempo and despairing vocals, even taking some of the lyrical references from To Stars – “playing my senses like an orchestra / drawing my blood into her…” With You I’m Nothing is more upbeat, despite the melodrama of the intro, and develops into one of the most accomplished and memorable tracks. ‘Sometimes’ is a low-key but exquisite ballad and No North Left a sprawling, edgy epic that closes the album.
However for sheer fun, the standout track is Sleepin’ Makes Me Thirsty, not a second too long at over seven minutes. Reynolds happily pillages for some of the funniest lyrics around – “It’s a Godawful small affair / but I’m losing my hair / and my appetite is off the scale” – in this lament for lost youth. “Waking up’s a lot like dying / it can’t be stopped but we’re still trying” – can’t argue with that, especially when set against an infectious Latin beat. This is for everyone who loved Steamin’ and Biography of a First Son.
So does this album match up to the first two? It’s not as immediately accessible, but ultimately it’s just as rewarding, and the excitement of the first two tracks bodes well for the future.