British New Wave music often offered an interesting contrast between technological innovation and pop artifice; groups such as Duran Duran, Human League, and Depeche Mode released records that dominated the pop charts and seemed superficial, only to be deceptively complex and musically innovative. Occasional one-man band Howard Jones had a string of huge early successes before settling into a low-key but steady solo career. Cherry Red’s new three-disc collection Best (1983-2017) offers up a handpicked selection of the best of Jones’ career.
Establishing himself in 1984 with Human’s Lib and the international hit song “What Is Love,” he quickly showed his diversity with follow-up singles, “Hide And Seek” and “Pearl In The Shell,” as both show that he was a man not beholden to formula; the former was a deep ballad; the latter, a jaunty synth-pop number that initially feels dated yet retains a timeless charm that still appeals. The next year’s follow-up, Dream Into Action would prove to be his commercial peak; it features four hit singles, including defining “Things Can Only Get Better,” and a rerecorded version of album cut, “No One Is To Blame.” “Life In One Day” and “Like To Get To Know You Better” were also quite successful in Europe, but only minor hits in the States.
But unfortunately, Dream Into Action’s overwhelming success might detract from his next album—the expensively made and slick-sounding One To One appeared in 1986, and surprisingly, superb singles “All I Want” and “You Know I Love You…Don’t You?” seemingly failed to reach the previous year’s heights, while the superb ballad “Will You Still Be There” completely failed to chart. By the time of 1989’s Cross That Line, Jones’ intelligent, grown-up pop was largely ignored, though its two singles, “The Prisoner” and “Everlasting Love” performed quite well in America.
Understandably, by the 1990s, Jones was tired of the industry. His 1992 album, In The Running, found him going for a more lush, sophisticated sound—singles “City Song” and “One Last Try” found him blending baroque pop and balladry, resulting in a Peter Gabriel-style sound that is startlingly different than his releases from the past decade. Unsurprisingly, the album failed to replicate his earlier success, and it marked the end of his major label tenure.
But Jones was far from washed out; instead, he formed his own record label, Dtox Records, and by 1993 he was back with a new album, Working In The Backroom. This new independence fit Jones well, as he matured into a fine artist, one not beholden to label expectations. His music would soon become quite varied, as he explored the expansive balladry of In The Running yet delving into jazzier sounds, with the occasional foray into electronica. He’ll pop out a great ballad like “Nothing To Fear” and then turn around and give the world something different, like the pulsing dance pop of “The Human Touch” and “Let The People Have Their Say.”
But that’s just the thing; taken in total with the rest of Best (1983-2017), you realize that he’s really not doing anything different or surprising; if anything, he’s simply following his muse. Thankfully, though his career has had highs and lows, his muse has never betrayed him, and the forty-two songs found here prove that he’s an artist who’s yet to write the final chapter.He’s still a consummate performer; the third disc of this set features a handful of acoustic and electric live recordings of songs from the whole of his career–and they’re all quite fine. The final song of this set, “Eagle Will Fly Again,” was released last year, and is a declaration of intent: Howard Jones isn’t going anywhere.
And thank God for that….