By Bob McMahon
By Allison Babka
By Kelsey McClure
By Carolina de Busto
By Ben Westhoff and Sarah Purkrabek
By Steve Brennan
By Joseph Hess
By Allsion Babka
Working with such unusual ideas is actually typical of Jackson's music since he started working on ambitious projects like 1997's Heaven and Hell and 1998's Symphony No. 1. Even as most pop-music attention spans are growing ever shorter, Jackson continues to believe in writing songs rich in character development that fit into larger, album-length concepts.
"It's something that just seems to have crept up on me in the last five years," he says. "I'm writing more and more about characters and also having other voices to bring them to life. I don't really know how that's happened. I just think it's a bit boring if the spotlight is always on me. So I like to take the spotlight off myself not only in the writing but in the performance as well."
Jackson sings the lion's share of songs on the album, but he's also joined by Marianne Faithfull, who sings the wan "Love Got Lost," as well as Iranian diva Sussan Deyhim, who soars on the stunning "Why," and Dale DeVere, who emotes to the clubby "Glamour and Pain."
"He's a drag queen I met in a couple of New York clubs," Jackson says of DeVere. "He can sing a bit, unlike a lot of drag queens [he laughs]."
In addition to Night & Day II, Jackson's 1999 book A Cure for Gravity has just been published in paperback. "It's not really an autobiography," he says. "What I call it is a book about music that's thinly disguised as a memoir." Strangely, the book doesn't deal so much with what Jackson has been through in his many years in the spotlight as it does with what brought him to that point. "It goes up to my 24th birthday, when I was in the studio making my first album," he says, "and it does have a lot of reflection on what happened since then. It's just that I concentrated on the stuff that no one knows about. People know what I've done after that point, and it's less interesting than the stuff that came before."
What's also interesting is Jackson's continuing relationship with the Sony Classical label, which has released all of his albums since Heaven and Hell. Jackson says signing with the label wasn't a matter of "going classical" -- indeed, he denies that his symphony is really even a classical work, instead describing it as a "reinterpretation of a classical form." Jackson says his relationship with the label started at about the same time his deal with Virgin Records began to sour. "Heaven and Hell was sort of half-finished at that time, and we started shopping it around it a bit just to see what kind of reactions we got, and we got a wildly enthusiastic reaction from Sony Classical. Even though being on a classical label is pretty weird for me, basically I don't care what kind of label it is, as long as they're enthusiastic about working with me.
"So it's kind of an experimental partnership: on my side, an artist who doesn't really fit categories very easily, and on their side, a classical label that is trying to broaden what they do beyond the classical repertoire. And it seems to be working so far."
His greatest challenge these days, Jackson says, is battling what he calls the "supermarket syndrome" in which all music must operate under one sort of label or another in order to be heard.
"You go into the supermarket and there's so many products, it's overwhelming. So everyone wants every product to be very clearly labeled so that they know exactly what it is," Jackson says. "And what I do is kind of, like, you pick up a box on the shelf, and, instead of just telling you just what it is, it says, "Here's something we're not quite sure how to describe. It's kind of like this, and it's kind of like that, but you really need to try it, and maybe you'll like it.' If you see that in a supermarket, you'll get pissed off. That's kind of what I'm up against. But I think all I can do is make sure I put good stuff in that box, and whoever discovers it, at least they'll be getting something real."