I'm not what you'd call a disco fan; at least, I'm not a 70s disco fan. While a few songs here and there don't tend to annoy me, the bells and whistles and cheap production of mid-70s dance music leaves me feeling not only like a gigantic stereotype, but also like I should be doing cocaine and wearing a polyester Hawaiian shirt with a matching gold medallion. The only CD in my entire collection that constitutes as a through-out disco record would be that of Grace Jones's debut from 1977, a weird album by the name of Portfolio.
Before she was a recording artist, Ms. Jones was loved, feared, and hated in the modeling industry, quickly becoming a muse for Andy Warhol, who once, ironically, told her that if she didn’t tone down her style, she’d never get anywhere. Well, I’m proud to say that Grace Jones stuck to her guns and became unstoppable, if not horribly scary. Her shocking film roles (in which she performed her own stunts) and blunt facial expressions and musical delivery made her one of the most recognizable women in the business.
Her musical career has gone through strongly marked eras. In the late seventies, Grace released a trio of disco records that were directly squarely at dance markets. We have orchestra instrumentation, drum machine scratching, and funky backbeats that made up the decade. Fame and Muse would follow suit, before Grace began releasing experimental rock/pop/reggae albums like Warm Leatherette in 1981. Now, Grace’s records aren’t easy to find on CD in just any store, so her disco albums should take a bit of a backseat over her Sly & Robbie records; but if you’re looking online at places like Amazon, you can pick them up fairly cheap (excluding the obscure Fame and Muse, which is not available on CD at all.) What irks me about this era of her music is that her musical presence wasn’t quite there yet—that and I’m not a huge disco fan to begin with.
A little bit is lost in translation on CD when it came over from vinyl as soon as you look at the track list. The first three tracks on this album were the A-side of the record and consist of three Broadway standards, the most ridiculous of which is Annie’s Tomorrow. It’s funny to think of a woman like Grace Jones, who would go on to perform some bone-chilling music, singing one of the most obnoxious songs in the history of musical theater. That said, I actually like her version. Take out that typical 70s production and I like her delivery. If there is one thing about her early work that I love, it’s that she established that she did and does have vocal talent, even if she does just sound a little bit like a random club singer. What I Did for Love is the one track from this album that I could listen to over and over again. Her Jamaican/New York accent broods on the deep delivery of the line “Kiss today goodbye. Point me towards tomorrow.” I’d love to hear her re-record this track with an updated production, but it actually works as a disco track. The chorus of girls giving her back-up provides great juxtaposition of Grace’s dark performance, which, in turn, gives juxtaposition between the entity that is Grace Jones and the sunshine-y nature of disco music in general.
The one song that anybody is going to know from Portfolio, it’s her signature track La Vie en Rose, which was originally recorded by Edith Piaf. It’s been noted that Edith is the only person to every sing this track with the passion it needed. Me, I just think the song sounds dusty, even within the context of its time. Grace’s version shines light on a new side of the track, though, making it to be quite creepy. I do skip it, though. All the time. Another semi-popular track was I Need a Man, which became a staple in gay discos across the nation. It was noted, on her Slave to the Rhythm LP that she would sing this track to a group of gay men while looking like a tall, handsome man. Her androgynous visuals would work in her advantage, providing her with a step inside the door—take that, Andy. I don’t mind I Need a Man, (it’s one of the first inklings of Grace’s crazy personality that would shine on future releases), but nothing on Side B really tinkles my fancy enough to seek out. Sorry isn’t horrible and it has a nice melody, but it sounds like a dime-store disco track you could find on any 70s compilation CD. That’s the Trouble starts out with that urgent, racing sound that she would then overuse on her sophomore release. Here vocals are hidden beneath more generic disco, so this has got to be one of the tracks to avoid. Really, I can barely understand if she’s singing in French or English half the time—it doesn’t help that the lyrics aren’t printed in the CD booklet. If I weren’t a Grace Jones fan, I’m fairly sure that I would not own a hardcopy of Portfolio, nonetheless the digital download I had before I got the CD for my collection. If you are a Grace Jones fan, though, it is essential that you hear her beginnings, and if you don’t own a turntable, this is the one disco album you’ll find on CD without hunting to the ends of Earth.
Send in the Clowns (2 Stars)
What I Did For Love (5 Stars)
Tomorrow (4 Stars)
La Vie en Rose (2 Stars)
Sorry (3 Stars)
That’s the Trouble (1 Star)
I Need a Man (3 Stars)
OVERALL SCORE: 3 Stars (2.8+)
Recommended for established Grace fans only.