Wednesday 21st March
Joan Armatrading 5 Her next was Secret Secrets, another strong record, but a few too many shouty songs for me, ‘Talking to the Wall’ and ‘Love by You’ are good slower numbers.
This was the last album on which Joan used a producer, all her subsequent records she produced in her own studio, where she had total control. And Total Control is possibly Joan’s greatest attribute. She is almost unique in not being manipulated by the record industry. Rare for a woman, rarer still for a black woman – but Joan had total control, she wrote all the songs, arranged them herself, chose the musicians, and released exactly what she wanted to. And all the better for that too. Sleight of Hand followed in 1986, and despite a clutch of good songs she is still captured by the Eighties production, swathes of synths drown some of her best tunes. Still, when she slows it down she can still crack out a great ballad like ‘Jesse’ and ‘Don Juan’ along with great pop songs like ‘You Can Do Magic’.
Then she seemed to change again and go back to basics with The Shouting Stage. She took much longer in the studio, and the songs seem better for it. Less shouty, a bit more mid-tempo. And two stand-out tracks ‘Living For You’ and ‘The Shouting Stage’ are simply sublime. Hearts and Flowers followed, a softer album; Joan’s voice seems mellower, gentler – as do the songs. Best are the title song and ‘Promised Land’ and ‘More Than One Kind of Love’ – maybe a hint at her sexuality. Square The Circle came next, another lovely record; Joan was now well-established and had no need to follow trends or chase chart position. I really like the record, it feels more relaxed; as if she has found the sound she has been looking for so long. This seems a more late-night record too, rather than most of her Eighties albums, which always had a couple of rockers. Joan also used backing singers on this record, which tends to add a touch more roundness to the sound. Some good songs; True Love, Wrapped Around Her – and her first real Political song – If Women Rules The World.