JOE JACKSON -- Look Sharp! (A & M, SP 4743). I'm the Man (A & M, SP 4794).
Joe Jackson has yet to prove himself as more than an Elvis Costello clone, but that style is enough to draw a sell-out crowdto the Ontario Theater this Thursday.
While Jackson's "Look Sharp!" album brought him new-wave acclaim for inventive, sometimes angry lyrics, his recently released second LP merits only a ripple of interest. The songs on "I'm the Man" -- all written and arranged by Jackson -- are self-obsessed and indistinguishable from each other. There's an unrelenting frenetic energy to the cuts, aggravated by a tedious lyrical theme: Does he or doesn't he want commercial success?
The opening song, "On Your Radio," is a look-at-me-now expression of Jackson's arrival in rockland. He's glad to be beyond the reach of ex-friends and enemies now that he's riding the airwaves. But "Don't Wanna Be Like That" is a cranky rejection of the cushy life the tough boy from Britain finds in L.A.
In the title track, Jackson bemoans the culture that gave us the hula-hoop, Kung Fu and skateboards, cracking
To the masses through the media
And if you got anything to say to me
You can say it with cash.
It's a predictable spoof on his state of mind, but he's hardly the first to sing the selling-out blues.
Observing "Happy Loving Couples" on "Look Sharp!" Jackson had more cynical bite than he musters for "Geraldine and John," a similarly chiding song. In one he disapproves of the couple's superficial nature; in the other he notes the pair are married but not to each other.
His best moments on "I'm the Man" come during "It's Different for Girls," a quiet reflection in which Jackson departs from the insistent beat long enough to admit to a vulnerable side. He's off the subject of himself, and the sentiment works.
For all his concerns about making it, Jackson really needn't fear becoming a mass-appeal artist -- at least not on the strength of this album. Next to the gritty lyrics and raw rock on "Look Sharp!" he looks dull and disgruntled through most of "I'm the Man."