5 Albums: Jacknife Lee
Original Story by Don Morgan (2017-09-29)
With Songs of Experience now tipped for a December 1 release, we resume our 5 Albums series with one of the upcoming album’s key players, Irish producer, mixer, and songwriter Garret “Jacknife” Lee. The first official single from Songs of Experience, “You’re the Best Thing About Me,” was co-produced by Lee along with Steve Lillywhite and Ryan Tedder. Lee also played keyboards on the track and mixed the “Sci Fi Soul” mix, and shares co-production and programming credit on the “U2 vs. Kygo” version. He also produced, mixed, and played additional drums and guitar on the “Acoustic Version” released on September 29. In addition, Lee has been mentioned in several recent articles as one of the album’s five producers, alongside Lillywhite, Tedder, Jolyon Thomas, and Andy Barlow.
Jacknife Lee’s involvement with U2 stretches all the way back to 2004, when he co-produced and/or played keyboards on several tracks from How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. He also remixed several tracks from that era, including “Vertigo,” “Fast Cars,” the Bono and Pavarotti collaboration “Ave Maria,” and a digital-only version of “Window in the Skies.” Lee also co-produced (with The Edge) the Bono and Andrea Corr duet “Don’t Come Knocking,” from the Wim Wenders film of the same name. In 2017, he remixed “Bullet the Blue Sky” for the 30th anniversary release of The Joshua Tree.
Outside of U2, Jacknife Lee’s resume is quite diverse. He has produced, written, or mixed songs for a wide range of artists including Run DMC, Taylor Swift, The Killers, Neil Diamond, Regina Spektor, Kasabian, Nicole Scherzinger, New Order, Radiohead, Missy Elliott, Eminem, Bjork, and many more.
Here are 5 albums that bear the Jacknife Lee touch:
After the critical and commercial disappointment of R.E.M.’s 2004 album Around the Sun, the band was looking for a change in direction. The Edge himself encouraged R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe to consider Jacknife Lee, and as a result the band enlisted his services for their follow-up project. With 11 songs clocking in at a concise 35 minutes, 2008’s Accelerate finds the Athens trio returning to the angular guitar riffs and politically charged lyrics of its earlier albums. Accelerate was well-received by critics and fans alike on the strength of lead single “Supernatural Superserious,” opening track “Living Well is the Best Revenge,” the harmony-laden “Mr. Richards,” and the majestic “Until the Day is Done.” Jacknife Lee’s pairing with R.E.M. was so successful on Accelerate that he would return to produce the band’s final album, 2011’s Collapse Into Now, as well as a handful of tracks for a posthumous greatest hits compilation, including the bittersweet farewell single “We All Go Back to Where We Belong.”
The Cars/Move Like This
When Bostonian new wave icons The Cars reformed to record an album in 2011—their first since 1987’s Door to Door—they enlisted the services of Jacknife Lee to help make it happen. Move Like This recaptures The Cars’ classic sound, with Ric Ocasek’s sometimes goofy lyrics married to an infectious combination of rock guitar and quirky synthesizers. Lee produced five of the album’s ten songs, with the band themselves producing the other five. Lee doesn’t just stick to production, however. He and Cars guitarist Greg Hawkes share bass playing duties to help account for the absence of original bass player and vocalist Benjamin Orr, who succumbed to pancreatic cancer in 2000. On the strength of the Jacknife Lee-produced single “Sad Song,” the album debuted in the Billboard top 10 when it was released in May of 2011. The critics generally celebrated Move Like This, simultaneously embracing it as a throwback to The Cars’ glory years and a worthy musical statement for the present day.
Bloc Party/A Weekend in the City
After achieving significant critical success with the debut album Silent Alarm (produced by Paul Epworth), British indie band Bloc Party turned to Jacknife Lee for production on its sophomore effort, Weekend in the City. With Lee at the controls, the band expanded beyond the “post punk revival” sound of its debut to embrace a more varied style incorporating strings and a heavier dose of electronics. The album’s first single in Europe, “The Prayer,” was the group’s biggest hit on the British charts to date, peaking at number 4. The album’s second single (and first in the US), “I Still Remember,” was a minor hit on the Hot Modern Rock Tracks chart. After third single “Hunting for Witches” was released, the band entered the studio with Jacknife Lee again to record a handful of new songs including “Flux,” which became the album’s fourth single when it was added to the re-release of A Weekend in the City in November of 2007. Both Jacknife Lee and Silent Alarm producer Paul Epworth would join forces in 2008 to co-produce Bloc Party’s third album, Intimacy.
Robbie Williams/Take the Crown
Although not as well-known to North American audiences, British singer Robbie Williams is a global superstar—both as a member of British “boy band” Take That (1990-95 and 2009-2012) and as a solo artist. His lone project with Jacknife Lee was his ninth solo album, Take the Crown, released in 2012. It was Williams’ first release on Island Records, following a long relationship with EMI that had seen diminishing returns in recent years. Jacknife Lee’s production on Take the Crown is big, brash, and glossy, combining elements of jazz, electronica, rock, and straight-ahead pop across the album’s 11 tracks. Infectious first single “Candy” became Williams’ first number one single on the UK charts in over 8 years. The rest of the album was no less appealing. Music Week magazine said, “Not wishing to denigrate the art of the record executive, but Island may as well have chosen the lead single by chucking a dart at the inlay sleeve. They couldn’t have missed. Because there are no misses. Just hits - huge pop hits.”
Snow Patrol/Eyes Open
After releasing two well-received independent albums in the late 1990s and early 2000s, Northern Irish/Scottish band Snow Patrol signed with Polydor UK’s Fiction Records imprint. Since that time, every one of the band’s studio albums has been produced by Jacknife Lee. Their second Fiction album, 2006’s Eyes Open, is largely considered their breakthrough, spawning six singles including the worldwide hit “Chasing Cars.” Eyes Open was the biggest selling album in the UK that year, with highlights including the electronics-tinged duet with Martha Wainwright, “Set the Fire to the Third Bar,” and the heartfelt “Open Your Eyes,” which was licensed for use in a number of TV programs in the US and UK. Jacknife Lee’s contributions to the album included not only production, but also keyboards, programming, and background vocals. Since its release, Eyes Open has sold more than six million copies worldwide, including more than one million in the US and well over two million in the UK. Snow Patrol opened for U2 on the European leg of the Vertigo Tour in 2005 (in support of their first Polydor/Fiction album Final Straw), and would open for U2 again on numerous dates on the U2360 Tour between 2009 and 2011. The band also recorded a cover of “Mysterious Ways” for the AHK-toong BAY-bi compilation in 2011.