Joan Armatrading: To The Limit (1978)

Joan’s third album, and first with producer Glyn Johns, was a charmer; her third album with Johns, not so much. To The Limit is the weakest of her classic albums. There are no big hits, no breathtaking melodies, no heart-melting ballads. What you will find here are quite a few near-misses: “Barefoot And Pregnant,” “Wishing,” “Bottom To The Top,” “You Rope You Tie Me.” In a different setting (say, without the lyricon, which was always a strange musical beast) and, sorry, with a different producer (so much for services rendered, Mr. Johns), To The Limit could have been a better album. Or maybe the restless feel of the record reflects the artist’s fractured state of mind; I’m just some dork speculating on a computer, right? What I do know is that the albums before and after got under my skin, and this one kind of makes my skin crawl with its ungainly and difficult arrangements. The lovely live version of “You Rope You Tie Me” from Steppin’ Out suggests that the studio arrangements are the main culprit. You want “Baby I” to flow as smooth as “Warm Love” (it’s still a pretty great song) or “Barefoot And Pregnant” to jump with joy like “Show Some Emotion.” They don’t, instead limping along some of the time (“Let It Last”) or running too fast (“Taking My Baby Up Town”). You wish Joan would slow down, stop changing speeds, let the melodies breathe. The talent on To The Limit is obviously there, even if the mood is dour. But it appears the Glyn Johns honeymoon was over, and the man seems as baffled by her musical contradictions as previous producers. This might make my top 10 Joan Armatrading albums because of the creativity behind it, but top five, no.

Original LP Version
A1. Barefoot And Pregnant (3:40)
A2. Your Letter (3:39)
A3. Am I Blue For You (4:24)
A4. You Rope You Tie Me (4:09)
A5. Baby I (4:50)
B1. Bottom To The Top (3:55)
B2. Taking My Baby Up Town (3:25)
B3. What Do You Want (3:44)
B4. Wishing (4:47)
B5. Let It Last (4:56)

Words and music by Joan Armatrading.

The Players
Joan Armatrading (vocals, acoustic guitar), Quitman Dennis (lyricon), Dave Markee (bass), Philip Palmer (electric guitar), Dick Simms (organ & accordion), Henry Spinetti (drums), Red Young (piano). Produced & engineered by Glyn Johns.

The Pictures
Photography by Annie Liebovitz. Design by Nick Marshall. Art direction by Michael Ross.

The Plastic
Released on elpee and 8-track in October 1978 in the UK and the Netherlands (A&M, AMLH 64732), the US and Canada (A&M, SP/8T-4732), Australia and New Zealand (A&M, L 36724) and Germany (A&M, 39 4732) with lyrics innersleeve; reached #13 on the UK charts and #125 on the US charts.

  1. Re-issued with Joan Armatrading on “2 on 1” cassette in the UK (A&M, CAM CR002).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc in the US (A&M, CD 4732).
  3. Re-issued on compact disc in 2002 in South Africa (Universal, STARCD 5676).
  4. Re-issued on compact disc on June 18, 2014 in Japan (A&M, UICY-15311).
  5. Re-issued on compact disc in 2016 in Europe (A&M, 536 051-6).

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