“Pleased to meet you…pleased to have you on my plate… your meat is sweet to me,” deadpans Grace Jones at the start of Corporate Cannibal, over the menacing swirls of a rising storm. Twenty years on, and it’s just like old times. Ms Jones still seems primed to throw a viper onto your lap, or at the very least to lamp you for daring to look the other way.
But there’s a twist: the cannibal in question isn’t Grace herself. As the track builds into a broody, insistent piece of industrial trip-hop, it becomes clear that this is a protest song of sorts, and that the “man eating machine” is none other than The Man of the corporate boardroom. Could there be something more tender underneath the role-playing?
The answer is yes; and though there are clear musical similarities to her ’80s output, this is not the work of the robotic Amazon we knew and loved, but an album of personal reflection and deeper humanity than we ever might have expected.
Williams’ Blood feels like the centrepiece of the album, and is a moving tribute to Grace’s maternal line. If the idea of a potted biography of the artist’s mother sounds a little sickly, believe me – it’s not. Beginning as a shuffly soul number, it builds and builds into a kind of frenetic electrified gospel as the focus of the tale gradually switches from Ms Jones Snr to her daughter, the cry of “Let me go!” echoing their collective power and need to escape from male control. The closing refrain of Amazing Grace (oh yes) may demonstrate a degree of self-obsession, but you kind of feel she’s earned the right after such a terrific track.
New chums Massive Attack are a clear influence on Hurricane; their dubby beats and distorted guitars lending a slow, moody pace for much of the album. Where Corporate Cannibal (swirling synths, grimy low-slung basslines) takes its lead from their Mezzanine album, I’m Crying (Mother’s Tears) would have sat neatly on Protection or Blue Lines. It’s a soulful and wholly fitting backing for another, even more intimate, reflection on Grace’s relationship with her mother. Even the squeaky toy noises seem oddly appropriate.
But the 60 year-old diva is nowhere ready to pick up her bus pass yet. When Hurricane blows, its ready to take out anything in its path. This Is kicks off the album in true style, introducing the new model with an ass-shaking Missy Ellliott electro-ragga monotone; with Grace purring over the top in a tarry, dark-rum Jamaican accent. By the end, it’s evolved into a densely textured dancehall mantra which is easily the equal of anything she’s ever done.
Lyrically, it’s full of the authoritarian proclamations which characterised her ’80s work (“This is my voice / My weapon of choice”) but in the deep, treacly context of the backing track, the austerity sounds totally convincing. It is, without a doubt, the work of a superstar returning from the shadows.
Occasionally Hurricane sails much closer to previous work. At the more positive end of this, the title track echoes the minimalist dub / foghorn voice of many of her 80s tracks; and when she talks of “ripping up trees,” you’re still inclined to get well out of the way. Towards the end though, the album peters out a little, mainly through reverting to the thin reggae template which characterised some of her less impressive efforts of old; and by the time the would-be Bond theme Devil In My Life comes around, your attention may have wandered a little.
There was always a whisper of style-over-content about Grace Jones; the Warhol muse who happened to be in the right place at the right time. In its best moments, Hurricane puts any such rumours to bed: her updated persona is rich and soulful, though still exuding the scariness which made us love her in the first place. Now don’t you dare turn your back on her.