I saw Howard Jones last night at the Factory Theatre in Sydney. It was a unique gig in that he performed the complete Dream Into Action album, had a 30 minute intermission and then performed the complete Human’s Lib album. Rather than doing versions of these songs, he wanted to recreate the sound of the album tracks live and so borrowed the multi-track tapes from the record company to break apart the songs into their constituent elements. For a three man synthpop performance, it was remarkably live with a drummer playing a 24 pad electronic drum kit, a tech wizard triggering samples with incredible dexterity and Howard with a hand on two keyboards playing all the lead lines and chordy parts with his usual mastery.
Dream Into Action is a great 80s synthpop album with many hits (Things Can Only Get Better, No One Is To Blame, Look Mama, Life In One Day) and it clearly appealed to the Gen X audience who sang along with gusto. I was thrilled to hear Specialty which is an album track I loved in my youth and never expected to hear live. Human’s Lib is a different proposition. Although it features the pop masterpiece – What Is Love, it also features a number of edgier songs, which in part sound quite contemporary. In fact, the tempo, syncopation and some of the synth sounds would sit comfortably on recent Passion Pit or Chairlift albums. This was confirmed when I noticed the bearded Gen Y lumberjacks around me nodding their heads with admiration and a degree of fascination.
I find it interesting with Howard Jones’ music how quickly his songs move from pure cheese to heavy, somber tones. I like to stylistically jump around with my music too, but Howard does it in quite a unique way. My main criticism of his recordings is that he is such a virtuoso on the keyboards, and it comes so naturally to him, that he has a tendency to overplay and over embellish. The producer in me wants to simplify and restructure his arrangements and the designer in me wants to see him use better graphics. But who am I to criticise a synth legend, his hit songs are undeniable pop gold and his mastery of the keyboard, impressive.