I love Howard Jones. I am unsure whether this makes me decidedly uncool, or whether it just means the fashionable music press have failed in their relentless pursuit of brainwashing me and countless others to satisfy thir own selfish agenda. But you see, I don’t want to be hip and cool. I don’t want to play by the rules.
Casual music observers will perhaps be taken aback by how many of Howard’s tunes they actually know, the multi-instrumentalist famously from High Wycombe having dented the UK top 20 with each of his first nine hit singles, as well as topping the album chart with his debut, and continuing with more modest chart success later on. What is perhaps more surprising however, is that while the eighties commercial brand is largely derided in general by all and sundry these days, Jones’s body of work holds up remarkably well. ‘New Song‘ and ‘What Is Love‘ sound just as fresh as they did back in 1983, and ‘Hide And Seek‘ remains a stark, thoughtful work of ethereal beauty. ‘Things Can Only Get Better‘ too, is a work of real defiance, stubbornly declaring “And do you feel scared? I do. But I won’t stop and falter.” With the arrival of a new kind of music in Acid House to usher in the 1990s, however, the music media seemed to relegate Jones to the cheap seats and slapped him with an undeserved and unwarranted tag of “has been”, doomed to spend the next 25 years in an abyss-like wilderness in the eyes of Joe Public.
But what really happened? Did Howard really lose his mojo? Skip past the halcyon days of disc one here – the “hit” disc – and the answer is all too clear: he continued releasing fine pop records, albeit as maybe a more “grown up” version of his former self, but yes, the spark was still very much aflame. It’s just that, rather tragically, people started liking what they were told to like and largely stopped buying his records.
‘Lift Me Up‘, Howard’s final US top 40 hit (yes, he had several sizeable hits over there too!) opens proceedings on disc two, sounding rather like the mid-eighties incarnation of Squeeze. No bad thing of course, and furthermore, you get a distinct impression that perhaps Steely Dan may figured comparitively regularly on playlists at the chateau du Jones when you hear the likes of ‘Cooking In The Kitchen‘, a suggestion perhaps confirmed by his version of Donald Fagen‘s ‘I.G.Y.‘ (not included here) in 1993. There is still room for joyous party anthems though, as late as 1998, with ‘Let The People Have Their Say‘, a song so cheerful that Lionel Richie would have come immediately down from the ceiling and gone to sulk in the garage.
But the real jewel in the crown here is disc three, full of quite wondrous live performances, and including far more up to date work such as ‘Just Look At You Now‘ and the fabulous ‘Building Your Own Future‘ (one of his very best, in fact) nestling in nicely amongst the better known numbers, all exquisitely performed and rightly lapped up by a highly appreciative audience, who appear to have stuck with Howard all these years and are being richly rewarded for their loyalty, and, indeed, their ‘Everlasting Love‘…
Best – 1983-2016 is out on 28th July through Cherry Red.