May 9, 2019 Howard Jones – Transform (Album Review)
One of the unique artists who defined the ’80s phase of New Wave/Synthpop music was Howard Jones, and the enduring Englishman continue to explore the genres and give them a good name.
Born on February 23, 1955, in Southampton, Hampshire, England, Jones has always been ahead of the typical pack, pushing the envelope of creativity. Since the release of his debut work, 1984’s Human’s Lib, he never faltered in creating new music. To date, he has 10 studio albums on his sleeve, the last of which was 2015’s sonically diverse Engage. Now, the New Wave icon is ready to unleash the follow-up, titled Transform.
Slated to become available on Friday, May 10, 2019, Transform finds Jones paying homage to his Synthpop roots. Not that he ever abandoned this style of music with which he has long been associated; but with the immediate predecessor Engage and a couple more albums released in the 2000s, Jones has trekked other musical possibilities—mostly cinematic, acoustic, and experimental. Transform, however, is a return to the New Romantic balladry and Synthpop sheen of his ’80s masterpieces—in particular, 1985’s Dream into Action (“Life in One Day”) and 1989’s Cross That Line (“Everlasting Love”).
Transform opens straightaway with the classy and classic sound of “The One to Love You,” which will instantly transport the listener to that youthful space of old, where swaying with waving hands in the air was a matter of life or death. Still in the same dancey mood, the ensuing “Take Us Higher” has, in contrast, been glazed with the punch and dub of Modern Dance music; the initiated may hear traces of also ’90s Alternative Dance bands such as Pop Will Eat Itself (“Eat Me Drink Me Love Me Kill Me”), Jesus Jones (“Trust Me”), and The Farm (“Groovy Train”) combined with the early Synthpop style of The Human League (‘Being Boiled”) and Heaven 17 (“Temptation”). Another interesting stylistic mashup is the ensuing “Beating Mr. Neg,” which starts as an Electroclash dancefloor stomper only to transition dramatically into a New Romantic track reminiscent of Jones’s recent single “Joy.”
The title track is a change of mood—bit subdued, tad soulful; more in line with Jones’s Sophistipop excursions. Definitely an album highlight, “Hero in Your Eyes” harks to Jones’s classic Synthpop sound; it will not go out of place on a playlist that includes classic New Wave tracks such as a-ha’s “Train of Thought,” Duran Duran’s “(Reach Up for The) Sunrise,” and Kajagoogoo’s “White Feathers.”
With the Sophistipop ballad “Tin Man,” Jones turns slightly melodramatic and inspired. And then there is the full-on dive into balladry as “At the Speed of Love” plays next, vibing off breezes of “No One Is to Blame,” taking the listener down memory lane. After this moment of stillness, Jones then soars again with the upbeat and sunny “Eagle Will Fly Again,” which was first released as a part of the original soundtrack of the 2016 film Eddie the Eagle.
The second-to-the-last track is inevitable—the piano ballad “Mother,” which gives recognition not only to the “lights of homes” but also to Jones’s heart for impassioned love songs. Finally, Jones concludes Transform with the celebratory funk and flicker of the discotheque glory “Stay with Me,” which was woven in collaboration with BT of the American Electronic duo All Hail the Silence.
Unarguably, Jones belongs to the pantheon of ’80s-peaking, great New Wave singer-songwriters, alongside the likes of Nik Kershaw (“Wouldn’t It Be Good”), Gary Numan (“We Are Glass”), and Adam Ant (“Kings of the Wild Frontier”). Transform is just another testimony of this greatness—a documentation of Jones’s ability to adapt to the changing musical landscape without sacrificing or losing his indelible trademark. Cryptic Rock gives Transform 4 out of 5 stars.