Joe Jackson is nothing if not a seasoned professional musician. He's been making his living playing music since the mid-'70s, and he knows how to reliably deliver for his audience. Jackson also has an unusually ambitious creative vision for a pop artist, and he's stated more than once that he'd rather be writing and performing jazz or classical material than pop tunes. But Jackson is also something of a pragmatist, and given the lackluster creative and commercial reception that greeted albums like Heaven & Hell, Jackson: Symphony 1, and The Duke, he seems to know his best bet is to give his audience something approximating what they want. As a consequence, albums like 2008's Rain and 2015's Fast Forward have found him writing pop songs again, but with a degree of sophistication that sets them apart from his work on 1979's Look Sharp!, or even 1982's Night and Day. 2019's Fool is another set very much in this tradition, and it captures Jackson and his latest combo -- guitarist Teddy Kumpel, bassist Graham Maby, and drummer Doug Yowell -- in superb form, giving these songs an artful swing buoyed by tight ensemble work. For Fool, Jackson took his band into the studio immediately after a tour, and this is clearly the work of a quartet that's well-seasoned and firing on all cylinders, and the greatest pleasure of this recording is hearing just how well they bring this material to life. The songs themselves, however, run hot and cold; much of the time, the melodies are trickier than they truly need to be, and the arrangements stretch them out when concision would be a wiser choice, despite their intelligence and many moments of genuine inspiration. And as a lyricist, Jackson has never been known for his forgiving nature, but "Fabulously Absolute," "Dave," and the title cut sound churlish rather than bitingly witty, and "32 Kisses" and "Friend Better" are a good bit kinder but still feel cold around the heart. However, the closing track, "Alchemy," a moody but polished bit of cocktail jazz with a dramatic bent, shows that Jackson does have the talent to make his grand ideas work when the pieces come together in the right way, and it's a marvel of smart, heartfelt songcraft. Ultimately, Fool isn't as satisfying as Jackson's more straightforward work of the '80s, but if this sometime suffers from too much ambition, Jackson clearly is good enough to come close to what he's aiming for, and in the moments where he connects, it's a truly impressive piece of work.