Howard Jones could be described as one of music’s elder statesmen, having been active in the music business for 40 years. During this time he has released 15 studio albums, not to mention 11 compilation albums and eight live recordings. Still a prolific live performer, Howard is set to play across the UK throughout the remainder of the year and into 2024. He toured alongside Culture Club and Berlin in the US last summer and is set to play dates with Blancmange in London and Southend in October.
It’s clear that Jones is a performer with pedigree, but why is this collection of tunes so different to the others that have been released in his name? With 64 songs included, which play for nearly five hours, what’s especially nice about this set of recordings, is that the four CDs have been presented in the form of four playlists. These range from Popular Hits, through Electro, Chill, finishing off with what has been termed Curiosities, perhaps the most intriguing aspect of this set. Commencing with ‘Things Can Only Get Better‘, this number was released in 1985 from his second album, Dream Into Action. His third year in the business and listening through headphones demonstrates the finer aspects of the recording. Played via a fairly bog-standard hi-fi back in the day, I have to say that most listeners will have missed the true production values afforded, yet it still proceeded high in the charts, both in the UK and worldwide. Travelling through this disc, Howard’s range is displayed, from the electro offered in the early 1980s, to tracks like ‘Life In One Day’, where a Celtic charm is exposed, to ‘The Prisoner’ where a rock tendency is heard. With 17 tracks on this first disc, there is plenty to hear, including the cheeky rap of ‘Bounce Right Back’ a mid-’80s slice of cheese.
The Electro portion is like travelling back in time, a misspent youth listening to Electro compilations came flooding back. Sweet melodies, with a candy twist, in fact, this whole portion is like listening to music which compiled this way, appears fresh and untouched. If anything the strong lyrics written by Jones might come with less impact than those offered earlier on. Here musical composition takes centre stage and it’s like watching Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, or any one of those John Hughes films, all of which Howard’s music could have featured. I should also mention ‘New Song (2023 Elephant Talk Remix)‘, a number which as the artist’s debut single back in 1983, is given a fresh ear. In this electro version, the listener hears 40 years slip past, like sand through time. The composer has revamped the tune, with this experience, producing music whose pace is reduced, whilst at the same time increasing the bpm.
A recording taken from the Dream Into Action album begins the third disc, as the single mix of ‘No One Is To Blame’ strikes up. I remember this album as being a solid release and this particular single, when released in the US, became his biggest selling single and still is. Howard Jones is the curator of this set and has again chosen numbers with a keen ear, as heading up this Chill section, is well selected. Followed by ‘If You Love’ from 95’s Angels and Lovers and onto ‘City Song’ from 1992’s In The Running, is a wonderfully expressive song. In this Howard sings “…Where do all the lonely people go, when they want some loving. Where do all the lonely people hide when they feel like crying…”, proving that not only does he have a keen ear when it comes to composing, but is also quite adept with illustrating his songs with the right words.
This skill has been offered when it came to compiling the set, as Howard has chosen its content himself, rather than presenting them in the typical chronological order. By choosing not to approach the set in this way, he has offered a songwriter’s ear to a group of recordings that stand out on their own and not just as another greatest hits compilation. I’m finding that listening is a regenerative process, from those songs that made up part of my childhood, to numbers I missed on their release, to versions that offer a new shine on tracks that might otherwise have been overlooked. This is a vibe, which is slightly different to the electronic chill-out albums I might have listened to, those by the likes of Orbital, but this is my oversight.
Finally, it’s the Curiosities slice of the set that is taking my ear and I did say that perhaps this might be the most intriguing aspect of this set as the first track ‘Overture 2’ meets my ears, I find I am rewarded. Here we find a new remixed version comprising elements from Jones’ previous tracks. Getting you into the mood for a different flavour, he presents a high-tempo version of ‘Pearl In The Shell’ for one, which flies above anything he’s previously released and brings us right up to date. Not wanting to remain still, we hear Howard proceed through previously released numbers, recorded both in the studio and live. Where we encounter Howard’s recording of David Bowie‘s ‘Lazarus’, a number which he performed and recorded, live in Spain. Here Howard chooses not to rework this number, but pay tribute to the artist who we lost shortly before the Blackstar album was released in January 2016. Different, but only just and is a suitable salute to Bowie’s legacy. Arriving at ‘Stay With Me (We’re In This Together)’, this alternative recording is another previously unreleased take of the 2019 song. In this version, Howard has laced the number with a serving of funk, which demonstrates again the artist’s breadth of palate. With the ‘Havana Version’ of 2009s ‘Collective Heartbeat’ new to CD, goes to show that even after 40 years since ‘New Song’, Howard Jones still has plenty to offer. I was right Curiosities was the most intriguing part of this set, but we’ll all have our favourites I’m sure.