While most everyone else is downsizing their sound and overextending their image, Grace Jones returns to the meat market after an extended absence with a massive tsunami of sonic detail matched to an equally finessed and poetic sense of self. Her first album in 19 years, Hurricane resembles no other recent record, and yet its timing is impeccable: TV on the Radio’s austerity, Santogold’s rebelliousness, and J*DaVeY’s askew grooves can all be traced back to the alternative blackness of an icon who rode in on a coke-fueled, glitter-filled breeze in the late ’70s, and then pulled off one of the only successful disco-to-new-wave transformations in the early ’80s, while Anglo pop androgynes and New York art freaks alike queued in the opposite direction.
In an era when “posing” became a loaded word and deed, Jones, an actual model, held an upper hand: With a body like an Oscar, she was severe and chic both on record and off, flitting between deep-voiced narrator and uncanny contralto with an accent located halfway between Jamaica and Transylvania. Pioneer remixer Tom Moulton graduated to the producer’s chair for her symphonic disco hits, and then she moved the extraordinary Sly & Robbie rhythm section out of the reggae ghetto and into the Paradise Garage with po-mo funk anthems like “Pull Up to the Bumper,” a celebration of booty sex that hit airwaves a heartbeat before AIDS claimed its first prey.
Wisely choosing not to play it safe or vacuously splashy, like most post-vacation veteran divas, Jones instead opts for seriousness on Hurricane, intersecting the autobiographical Grace and her allegorical alter ego while blending the string-filled drama of her earliest disco hits with the polyrhythmic vigor of her peak. The cast includes Sly & Robbie, Brian Eno, Tricky, Wendy & Lisa, and aristocratic former lover Ivor Guest, who brings his experience as a soundtrack composer to an album rich with cinematic splendor. The slow-burning first single, “Corporate Cannibal,” exudes the thrillingly creepy vibe of a high-budget socio-horror film while updating the Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil”: “Pleased to meet you,” she hisses. “Pleased to have you on my plate.” The follow-up, “Williams’ Blood,” examines the twisted roots of a conflicted family tree, here depicted by muted reggae verses representing her repressed party-girl mother and an exultant gospel chorus embodying her repressing preacher father. Here and everywhere, a multitude of instruments dance in orgiastic precision, paying tribute to an icon of pleasurable excesses, for which we now lovingly long.