Johnny Hates Jazz – Wide Awake (Album Review)

An ironic and witty name, Johnny Hates Jazz reigned supreme in the New Wave / Sophistipop realm in the late ’80s with their debut album. Despite the success of the record, which contained some of its surefire hits—such as “Shattered Dreams,” “Different Seasons,” and “Me and My Foolish Heart”—the English band went low-profile when Frontman Clark Datchler quit, to be replaced by Phil Thornalley for the follow-up, 1991’s Tall Stories, after which they broke up for good… at least for the next couple of decades. Now they return yet again with their latest album Wide Awake

Originally come together in 1986, in London, England, Johnny Hates Jazz has released four albums—from 1988’s Turn Back the Clock to the comeback offering in 2013, Magnetized, to the newly unleashed Wide Awake. Consisting of nine songs in total, the newest music is best characterized by its smooth, Soul & Jazz-influenced melodies, in league with that of the likes of Breathe (“Will the Circle Be Unbroken?”), The Blue Nile (“The Downtown Lights”), Spandau Ballet (“I’ll Fly for You”), and Lighthouse Family (“Ocean Drive”).

Released on Friday, August 21, 2020, via JHJ Music, Wide Awake opens with its lead single—the slick and nostalgic “Spirit of Love,” immediately taking the listener to when the romance of Johnny Hates Jazz started—32 years ago. The next track, “New Day Ahead,” is a sudden, rockin’ leap to the current—upbeat, slightly fuzzy, engaging. The ensuing “Love the Light” is another feel-good, soft heart beater—adorned with beautiful piano and harmonica melodies.

Johnny Hates Jazz then conjures the mood of ’80s New Wave Pop glory with “Greater Good” and the title-track—sunny, synth-y, funky, soulful, and sophisticated. And then there is the updated style of the Synthpop stomper “Free,” which will not be out of place on a playlist that includes The Postal Service’s “Such Great Heights,” Owl City’s “Fireflies,” and The Lotus Eaters’ “Stay Free.”

However, “No Mistakes” is what may be regarded as Wide Awake’s highlight—a bittersweet mix of Johnny Hates Jazz’s old flame and latest spark; youthful dreams for the new has not been shattered after all. The second-to-the-last song, “Don’t Stop the Music” is blue-eyed and funkier, exuding faint echoes of Level 42 (“Leaving Me Now”) and Culture Club (“Love Is Love”).

Finally, Johnny Hates Jazz—currently consisting of the duo of Datchler (vocals, keyboards) and Mike Nocito (guitarist, bassist)—wraps up its latest gem with another standout track, the slightly progressive “My Old Piano.”

Johnny Hates Jazz is definitely back—as jazzy, poppy, catchy, and classy as ever. Wide Awake is an instant classic, destined to be hailed in the same vein of appreciation as its firstborn sibling in the years to come. That is why Cryptic Rock gives the new album 4 out of 5 stars.

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