Swagger is in the air as “Lunacy’s Back” comes stomping out of the silence and ushers forth the opening bars of Paul Jacks’ Black Jackal, but as we’ll soon learn, the magic contained in this first track is really just a taste of what the LP has to offer as a whole. “Lunacy’s Back” has a rather deceptive title given its perfectly sane use of texture and tonality to tell us a story with synth rock-approved grooving, and as it hands off the baton to “No One Else,” the obvious throwback theme of the music begins to take shape completely. Jacks is paying tribute to the obscure Britpop, no wave, new wave and post-punk that made his sound possible here, but his homage involves no recycling from the past at all whatsoever.
“The Hunger” is dark, gritty and wants to be industrial (though its soft-style harmony just won’t allow for it to get there), while the title track is a little more colorful and allusively flamboyant, but they don’t make for chaotic tracklist neighbors at all. “The Quarantine” is probably the lone example of Paul Jacks going off the deep end with a hybrid of Bauhaus and Sugarcubes worship, but even in this song he sounds like more of a pro than anyone else in his scene has in 2020. He’s in love with the medium in way that he couldn’t have fully appreciated in his first go-round with in-studio recording, and to me, that love is making every track too powerful to be skipped over.
Although it’s the shortest song on the album at a miniscule two minutes and forty seconds in total length, “Acres of Diamonds” is nonetheless a very important part of Black Jackal’s larger narrative. Leading us into the grip of “Always Something to It,” “Acres of Diamonds” sets the stage for further textural expressiveness later on in the brief “In Between Us” and “Into the Silence,” the latter of which could have opened up the record just as well as “Lunacy’s Back” does. It’s at this point in the LP that Paul Jacks starts to get beyond vulnerable with his words and music, but it’s only here that we’re able to completely analyze what his true intentions were with this latest work. He’s exposed and vulnerable; a man enslaved by his passion for the music, and his is an imprisonment he has come to relish in the most surreal of ways a musician can.
“Walk Alone” concludes Black Jackal with a melodic exclamation point, but by now, the substance of the album has already sunk in as much as it’s going to for anyone who has happened to be within earshot of its contents. Paul Jacks isn’t a mainstream artist by any measurement, but in his third studio LP he declares that he doesn’t want to be — he’s an alternative legend in the making, much like his heroes before him, and in adapting historical sonic virtues to meet the needs of a millennial audience, he secures a permanent place in my heart as a critic and music fan.