Smart and funky pop from Luscious Jackson
Last week, I mentioned Luscious Jackson and realized I have never written up their great 1994 release, “Natural Ingredients.” I’m not sure how I overlooked this album for so long. It stayed in my CD player all fall that year and 9 of the disc’s 12 songs are still on my iPod (There are 14 tracks, but 2 of them are under a dozen seconds long).
Luscious Jackson (named after NBA star Lucious Jackson) consisted of four women. They were pretty hot but, surprisingly, not assembled by a marketing team to appeal to the broadest slice of the 18 to 35 demographic. The women play instruments and write their own songs. Jill Cunniff and Gabby Glaser, the band’s primary songwriters, paid for the first demo with money they made at their restaurant jobs. Theif first gig was opening up for the Beastie Boys and Cypress Hill. They signed to the Beasties’ fledgling label but only released a few albums before breaking up in 1999.
Their first LP, “Natural Ingredients,” has elements of hip-hop, disco, and pop, though they are usually lumped into that nearly meaningless category, alternative. The songs are not full of blistering solos or complex instrumental lines. Rather, the individual parts are often pretty simple, but fitted together like an audio jigsaw puzzle. The melodies are simple but appealing and the production is top notch. If you missed this album when it was released, check this out.
- Citysong – They create a great, funky groove with the keyboard riff, some occasional bongos, saxophone, and harmonica. This is a great way to kick off this disc.
- Deep Shag – As John Cusack said in High Fidelity about sequencing a mix, you have to start strong and then kick it up a notch. This is my favorite song on this disc. The hook is catchy and the lyrics are honest and deep.
- Angel – This has an almost retro disco feel, but it’s cooler than anything the Brothers Gibb put out.
- Strongman – “It takes a strong man to stand by a strong woman. Yes, it does.” Yes, it does. This links to a live performance of this song, but they do a really good job with this live.
- Energy Sucker – The video that accompanies this song on YouTube appears to be from some dreadful show. The song is what you’re here for, however, so just listen to the grinding guitar riff and funky percussion.
- Rock Freak – I mentioned above how well produced this disc is. Here is a prime example. The guitar and keyboards are nicely mixed to play with each other during the verses. Some cool fuzz and flange is put on the guitar at the chorus and there is a little vocal sample that gets thrown in for spice.
- Rollin’ – The verses are minimalist with sparse work by the guitar and keys, but the chorus is big with sweet harmonies.
- Surprise – The percussion is busy again on this track and the vocals occasionally range into an almost Middle Eastern sound. Overall, it’s just a solid rock tune, though.
- LP Retreat – This is such a strange tune. It reminds me of some of the weirder stuff Digable Planets has done. Surely someone must have sampled this to rap over it by now. The groove is so damn cool.
I got their other releases with high hopes, if not expectations. This was the best one, though. Lead singer Jill Cunniff released a solo album in 2007 called “City Beach.” I heard it and liked it, but not as much as this great album.