Wednesday, December 5, 2018

HOWARD JONES: Deluxe expanded editions reviewed!


(2CD + DVD)

(2CD + DVD)

(Cherry Red Records)

Howard Jones was a unique voice in the ‘80s. While his hits were extremely memorable (and still receive a lot of airplay all around the world), his albums were a lot more sophisticated than his singles would lead you to believe. Like Nik Kershaw and Level 42, Howard’s music was informed by Jazz and World Music, which added more texture to his recordings. Although his singles were driven by delicious Pop melodies, Howard preferred to experiment with sounds, structures and arrangements which ensured that his music would continue to evolve over time. More than just a flash in the pan, Howard created intelligent Pop music that is ripe for reappraisal. Cherry Red Records is giving listeners the opportunity to immerse themselves into Howard’s early years with the expanded reissues of his first two albums HUMAN’S LIB (1984) and DREAM INTO ACTION (1985).


Howard’s first single, “New Song” (produced by Colin Thurston), remains a perfect Synthpop single. With great keyboard and vocal hooks, the song sums up the energy and optimism of the decade and stands as one of the defining moments of the ‘80s. While the melody and arrangement echo the commercial side of ‘80s music, the lyrics encourage individualism. That’s quite a brilliant move from Mr. Jones. The debut album HUMAN’s LIB offers up even more great Electronic Pop that embraces Jones’ more cerebral, experimental side (“Conditioning,” “Hunt The Self,” “Equality”) as well as his love of pure Pop (“Pearl In The Shell,” “Natural,” “What Is Love”). Jones even shines on melodic, atmospheric Pop as well (“Hide And Seek,” “Don’t Always Look At The Rain,” ). Produced by Rupert Hine and engineered by Stephen W. Tayler, HUMAN’S LIB doesn’t stand in one place for too long. Hine is a pioneer in Electronic Music and his familiarity of the genre and his own creative leanings certainly push Howard further out, allowing him to take journeys to musical territories that would have been off limits to most of his contemporaries. HUMAN’S LIB is an album that courts commercial Pop without fully committing to the relationship. In short, Howard is more concerned with creating art than he is with crafting hits.  Thankfully, he was able to do both

The expanded 2CD + DVD edition includes the original album’s 11 tracks plus five remixes and one instrumental on CD One. The second CD features 13 additional alternate mixes and non-album tracks. The DVD features pre-fame rehearsal footage when his live show was more performance art, plus TV appearances (including a couple tracks with live vocals) and the music videos for the album’s singles. And yes, Jones’ mime sidekick Jed Hoile appears on most of the DVD.


Before his next album was finished, Howard released the stop-gap single “Like To Get To Know You Well,” which pointed in the direction of his sophomore album DREAM INTO ACTION. Since technology continued to evolve since the release of his debut album, the second album reflects an evolution in Howard’s sound. Fueled by the adrenaline of touring and achieving chart success, Jones’ songs on DREAM INTO ACTION are more upbeat and electric. Album opener and single “Things Can Only Get Better” (which features real horns, folks!) remains one of his most popular songs and continues to inspire new generations over three decades after its release. Other singles from the album include “Look Mama,” ‘Life In One Day,” and “No One Is To Blame” (more on that song in a moment). With Hine and Tayler again twiddling the knobs, the album adds new sounds to the mix, moving away from the gloss of HUMAN’S LIB and embracing a dirty, dry sound that reflects the energy behind the songs. Mixing a bit of Funk into the mix, the album sounds like the logical follow-up to his debut without sounding anything like it. With the addition of vocal trio Afrodiziak and various musicians (including his brother Martin on bass), this is an album that proves Jones was no mere flash in the pan. DREAM INTO ACTION still embraces Howard’s love of experimenting: “Specialty” moves from quirky Synthpop verses to a glorious grand Pop chorus before slipping back into quirkville… and then back to Pop again! The album completely avoids the sophomore slump and moves Howard even further forward into the Pop charts. After the album’s release, Howard re-recorded “No One Is To Blame” with Phil Collins and Hugh Padgham on production duties. While the album version was a glorious ballad, the re-recording took the song to a new level. And that is the hit version that most people are familiar with. (Note: fans of the song need to check out the stripped back original version on DREAM INTO ACTION.)

The expanded 2CD + DVD edition includes the complete 12-track album plus six bonus tracks - including the pre-album “Like To Get To Know You Well,” a re-recording of “No One Is To Blame,” and more non-album recordings – on CD One. CD Two includes the hit single version of “No One is To Blame,” non-album tracks, remixes, and alternate mixes (12 tracks in all). The DVD contains live in the studio performances, TV appearances and videos for the singles. However, Jed doesn't make as many appearances here...

While not exactly overlooked three decades on, Howard Jones is ripe for rediscovery by those that only know his hit singles. These are the albums that set his career in motion and some might even suggest that they are his finest platters. In any case, it is time to revisit HUMAN’S LIB and DREAM INTO ACTION with these two brilliantly compiled expanded editions.

NOTE: Each album is also available in a Super Deluxe Edition containing three CDs, two DVDs and a picture disc vinyl pressing of the album PLUS bonus material.

Keep on truckin’,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee

No comments: