JOE Jackson strikes an existential chord on his latest album, ``Big World.'' Rather than addressing carnal concerns or teenage Angst, as much pop music does today, the British singer/songwriter plays the role of bemused tour guide on a global trot, commenting on how the very nature of travel allows one to step outside his or her own particular view of the world. ``Some people go through life basically only being really interested in what's happening in their own back yard, but I could never understand that,'' says Jackson, who now makes his home in Manhattan. ``I've always thought, if there's been anything I've gained from having the success I've had as a pop musician, the ability to travel has definitely been the best thing.''
Jackson broke onto the scene with his impressive debut album for A&M, ``Look Sharp,'' in 1979. Snarling and cynical, full of melodic hooks, it was a refreshing record for the times. Along with the music of fellow Brits Elvis Costello and the Police, Jackson's snappy beats, clever chord progressions, substantial lyrics, and wry sense of humor ushered in an exciting era in pop music.
Not one to rest on his laurels or get locked into a formula, Jackson ventured into reggae with his self-produced 1980 album, ``Beat Crazy.'' And in 1981 he surprised everyone with ``Jumpin' Jive,'' his tribute to the music of Cab Calloway, Louis Jordan, and the general ambiance of the 1940s.
``I really wanted to pay tribute to these artists and let kids know about this music that they may have missed out on, because it's such great stuff,'' says Jackson. ``It should be kept alive.''
Then in ``Night and Day,'' he flirted with salsa music and came away with a Grammy nomination for the single ``Steppin' Out.'' Suddenly critics were dubbing him ``a new-age Ellington,'' praising his gifts for composition and arranging. Where he once had been a cult figure, Joe Jackson had now become a star with mass appeal.