Review of: The Thunderthief, John Paul Jones, released 2002-02 on the Discipline Global Mobile label as DGM0104.
A mark of musical quality is when an established artist—notwithstanding previous success and fame—can produce albums that make good musicians weep for joy in this world of "one shot and then they're serving you drinks at a fast food outlet" bands. John Paul Jones has already attracted critical acclaim, and manages to further underline his superiority with his 2002 release, The Thunderthief.
This is Jones's second major solo album since he put his production work aside, with the legend of Led Zeppelin still looming but ever more distant. The theme of his first album—-Zooma—-is continued and extended, with the thunderous bass-driven tracks still evident, but giving way to traditional mandolin workouts such as "Down By The River To Pray". Jones's mastery of a dazzling array of instruments showcased on this album (from the autoharp to the ukelele) produce a eminently listenable and cohesive sound.
Jones contributes vocals to the album, with lyrics co-written with conceptual artist and cartoonist Peter Blegvad. Robert Fripp—-of King Crimson, and now Jones's label boss-—is the notable guest on the album, providing the wailing guitar for the catchy prolegomenon of "Leafy Meadows".
All of the songs on the album are impressive, although the post-punk-punk "Angry Angry", and the whimsical "Freedom Song" may not appeal to some. Personally, I find the former amusing, and the latter inspirational. In any case, this album is its own highlight, so I'll just pick some songs out of the tracklist at random to give you a feel for what you'll be getting in return for your hard earned cash.
"Hoediddle", track three, features a wailing and heavily-delayed guitar for the first three minutes. At 2:52, yank the volume all the way up, and strap yourself in. The bass comes in following the guitar riff, and then a clattering of symbals heralds the entrance of the percussion. More overlaid guitars in the background account for the thickness of the sonic explosion, with deft variations thrown in quickly (this is the usual ten ideas in five minutes JPJ). The piece quickly leads to a wonderful celtic mandolin piece, reprised for the coda.
"Daphne", split from "Hoediddle" by the atmospheric and slightly No-Quarterish "Ice Fishing At Night", is a fairly conventional electric blues song, with synthesized voice embellishments bringing an end to the slightly jazzier middle section. With its catchy riff, wailing guitars, and conversation overdub on the bridge (evocative of an ocean cruse party), this song has plenty of feel.
"Down To The River To Pray" is a traditional bluegrass song here in a full main riff triple-neck mandolin interpretation. It's great that there can be one fully acoustic song on an album with lots of variations—-consistency is itself here a variation. The song itself is finely layered, with delicate harmonies, and a duet of memorable main passages and phrases. Jones's timing, impeccable on every song, is particularly notable here for the depth of the multitracking.
Picasso once said that success is dangerous since "one begins to copy oneself, and to copy oneself is more dangerous than to copy others." John Paul Jones achievements in diversity are that he continues to develop his own music whilst providing inspiration for others. It's very difficult to rate a new album in terms of its longevity, but the genre-independent aspect of The Thunderthief ensures that it will always be an interesting album to listen to. Overall, The Thunderthief is an album full of variations, and musical surprises that not only entertain you the first time around, but will also keep the dust from the cover.
Sean B. Palmer: now cooler, swhackier; more chic, proactive, and phenomic.