Joe Jackson: Rain

Joe Jackson is probably one of the most underrated songwriters out there. Sure, he's got a loyal following and his career is entering its fourth decade, but his name never seems to come up alongside people like Paul McCartney and Leonard Cohen and Elvis Costello.

Okay, so maybe he's not quite on par with those guys. Perhaps it's because his lyrics are often too focused and/or intellectual to make a universal connection with a broad range of listeners, or maybe it's because nearly everything he touches is peppered with darkness and sarcasm. Whatever the reason, though, the songs on Rain -- like most of Jackson's catalog -- are probably some of the greatest, darkest, most thoughtful songs you've never heard.

Music: 4 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
Jackson is more consistent on Rain than he was on his last release, Volume 4, but he's not as wild and unrestrained. He still relies on bassist Graham Maby and drummer Dave Houghton, but guitarist Gary Sanford is absent, leaving only Jackson's piano and voice to fill the melodic and harmonic void. And fill it he does, albeit in an often understated way. Lyrically, the melancholy songs are among the darkest and most powerful he's ever written, and his disdain for pop culture is as cutting as ever. As with most of his albums, there are a handful of throwaway tracks, but the strong songs more than compensate.

Packaging: 3.5 EPFL library cards out of a possible 5
Once again, the fine folks at the EPFL have mangled the package to make it fit into a jewel box, but at least the jacket survived. Both of the photos in the booklet are strong, but the cover photo -- of Jackson wearing black and smiling beneath an umbrella on a rainy street -- captures the mood of the music perfectly. The lyrics are included, and the design is decent but uninspired. The EPFL's copy of Rain includes a DVD, which I didn't watch because I'm one of about three people left in the world who doesn't want visual accompaniment to their music.

Listen if you like: Elvis Costello is the most obvious comparison, but fans of REM's lyrics, Tom Waits' stories, or Dresden Dolls' drama might like this one.

If it were food, it'd be: A cup of coffee by yourself at a window table in a downtown coffeeshop late on a rainy Sunday afternoon.

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