[Review] Joan Armatrading: The Shouting Stage (1988)

Joan enters her “mature artist phase” by exploring sophisticated arrangements rather than rocking out.

Kronomyth 13.0: Sisters in Arms.

Despite its title, The Shouting Stage is one of Joan Armatrading’s most restrained albums. The opening “The Devil I Know,” with its sophisticated jazz/blues setting, lets you know that she won’t be trying to rock your socks off. Instead, Joan tickles you with the charming melodies that have always been at the core of her best work (“Living For You,” “Straight Talk”) and moves you with deep observations about the cunning art (“The Shouting Stage,” “All A Woman Needs”). The arrangements are subtle yet supple, the supporting band (featuring Mark Knopfler and a returning Pino Palladino) typically excellent.

The Shouting Stage is in many ways where you would expect Joan Armatrading to be at this stage in her career: mining familiar melodies with richer results. It’s not about the hits anymore, although if you’re looking for them, “Living For You” and “Straight Talk” won’t disappoint. It’s about quality, consistency, experience. Maybe it’s the participation of Knopfler and Alan Clark, but The Shouting Stage reminds me of the softer moments on Brothers In Arms. It flows from a natural, organic place that her last few albums didn’t in their attempt to (at least partially) please rock audiences. It isn’t an optimistic album; the lyrics are some of her darkest yet, dealing with broken trust, jealousy, being out of love. In fact, there isn’t one positive perspective on love to be found on The Shouting Stage. Yet it’s her ability to create something beautiful out of sadness and frailty that makes Joan so very special. At the same time, she continues to seek new sounds in her restless quest for idealized love, which has made the journey far more interesting for us, her traveling companions.

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Original LP Version

A1. The Devil I Know (4:13)
A2. Living For You (4:14)
A3. Did I Make You Up (3:45)
A4. Stronger Love (5:07)
A5. The Shouting Stage (5:27)
B1. Words (3:46)
B2. Straight Talk (4:02)
B3. Watch Your Step (3:58)
B4. All A Woman Needs (5:01)
B5. Dark Truths (2:09)

All songs written by Joan Armatrading.

The Players

Joan Armatrading (vocals, guitar), Bob Noble (keyboards, strings, organ), Pino Palladino (bass), Phil Palmer (guitar) with Guy Barker (trumpet on A2), Mark Brzezicki (drums on A1/A3), Alan Clark (keyboards, piano), Manu Katché (drums on B1/B2), Mark Knopfler (guitar on A3/A5), Jamie Lane (drums on A2/B3), Jody Linscott (percussion on A3/A5), Wesley Magoogan (sax on A4/B2), Dave Mattacks (drums on A5/B4), David Rhodes (backing vocals on B1/B2). Produced by Joan Armatrading; engineered and mixed by Graham Dickson.

The Pictures

Photography by Andrew Catlin. Illustrations by David Band. Hair by Sandra Bonnick. Art direction by Jeremy Pearce. Design by Sarah Southin.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and compact disc on June 29, 1988 in the UK (A&M, AMA/AMC/CDA-5211), the US (A&M, SP/CS/CD-5211), Australia (A&M/Festival, TVL 93278/RVL 53278), Germany (A&M, 395 211) and Yugoslavia (RTB, 220264); reached #18 on the UK charts and #100 on the US charts.

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