What does it sound like?:
Howard Jones is a remarkably successful artist. Between 1983 and 1986, he enjoyed ten UK hit singles, six of which were top ten, and a number one album. Just as his star waned at home, he continued to have more hit singles across the world until 1992.
His music is quite simply, life-affirming, disposable Pop music. He keeps things nice and short, packs his songs with hooks and big choruses, and delivers them with an open heart. There is no pretence that he is creating ‘art’ and a virtual absence of angst. He embraces brightness with a light touch. As a result, he has always been derided as uncool, along with Nik Kershaw and, to a lesser degree, Paul Young. Nevertheless, he isn’t afraid to tackle difficult questions and deep philosophical themes, with lyrical help from Bill Bryant, such as What Is Love, Equality, Life In One Day, Will You Still Be There and Why Look For The Key.
His sound developed over time. His first, and most successful album, Human’s Lib, is just Howard himself playing synthesiser and drum machine. Davey Payne, from The Blockheads plays sax on one track. Human’s Lib is, therefore, tinny, artificial and cheap but therein lies its charm. It sounds like one bloke with a bit of inexpensive equipment, knocking together some Pop songs for instant gratification, without a single thought of the future. No less an expert than Neil Tennant described Jones as having “a neat talent for writing melodic pop songs with clever hooks and real 1970s singer-songwriter lyrics. A must for all Supertramp fans.” By the second album, Dream Into Action, his brother was playing bass (he had to add a fifth string because the lines were composed on a keyboard), there were genuine backing singers, a horn section and, somewhat surprisingly, Phil Collins on drums. Thereafter, the list of musicians grew, adding guitars and a string section. The songs are still full of melodies and hooks but the sound lost some of its character. Howard Jones lost his USP, some of his mojo and his popularity. He still perseveres today, gigging regularly and releasing songs put together in his home studio.
Cherry Red Records have acquired his catalogue and this is their first release, a career spanning best of, compiled and annotated by Jones himself. CD1 captures his synthpop imperial phase. CD2 covers the worthy but less gripping post commercial years from 1990 onwards. CD3 features mainly acoustic live cuts. It’s nice enough but is a missed opportunity, choosing to ignore his many 12 inchers and non-album B sides. As a result, some fans may prefer 2003’s collection of the singles A and B sides, The Very Best Of.
Listening to all three CDs in one go is an unexpectedly easy and pleasurable experience. Perhaps, Howard Jones deserves more appreciation for his undoubted skills than he has previously received.
What does it all *mean*?
Human’s Lib is a fine album.
Goes well with…
Big hair, leggings and a dancer painted white.
Might suit people who like…
Nik Kershaw, Paul Young and Supertramp.