Howard Jones is Transform-ing Summer
The synth wiz's sunny new album is a testament to independence and perseverance.
The ultimate goal of art is self-mastery. When an artist pushes beyond personal limits, the product is more satisfying than a creation assembled to compete with works by others. The ultimate results of the artist's extra effort toward this embodiment of self-mastery are ingenuity and clarity, characteristics which are rarely found in new music in 2019—and not usually heard in output by musicians whose catalogs stretch back nearly four decades. Howard Jones's latest album, Transform, is an exception, a testament to the perseverance of an artist who has never stopped trying to exceed his personal best. For anyone stuck in a rut and wondering how to improve life in the 21st century, Jones's music has a message for you: start with yourself.
Like many musicians who released their first material in the 1980s, Howard Jones (now 64) achieved worldwide success—and a string of popular albums including Human's Lib and Dream Into Action—in the years before corporate conglomerates gobbled up all the radio stations and record labels. Determination, a close family, SGI Buddhism, and a fascination with technology and futurism have guided Jones from a boy at a piano to a prolific songwriter and player who won't quit. He is a one-man band, a Royal Northern College of Music alum who could play Mozart on a grand piano and later his own "New Song" and "Like to Get to Know You Well" on synthesizers with grace, ease, and wit. He became an independent artist in the early 1990s, put out CDs on his dtox imprint, brought his parents on tour to manage the merch table, and never looked over his shoulder to worry about who might be chasing his heels. In the 2000s, he has found a niche in the touring market, both in America and Britain, and continues to entertain sold-out audiences globally.
Transform feels fresh and prescient in 2019: Its synth-driven aesthetic and insanely catchy vocal melodies mingle with lyrics about algorithms and social media. The title track, one of three collabs with electronic artist BT, would fit on playlists with current acts such as Chromeo, Churches, and Maggie Rogers as easily as with a list of classic 1980s tunes. Jones's 1985 song, "Things Can Only Get Better" is a key song on the soundtrack for the Netflix series Stranger Things, but your teenagers might enjoy Transform's "The One to Love You," "Take Us Higher," "Beating Mr. Neg," and "Stay with Me" just as much. Both Transform and the 2015 film Eddie the Eagle feature "Hero in Your Eyes" and "Eagle Will Fly Again," story-songs that emphasize the importance of finding faith in yourself at any age. "Mother" and "At the Speed of Love" are cinematic ballads in the vein of Jones's "No One is to Blame" or "Little Bit of Snow"—with chord progressions that meander and resolve, leaving light at the end of the journey.
It's difficult to write about the work of someone you consider both an inspiration and a friend, but I want to spread the word about Transform because it is an example of self-mastery which has encouraged me to rely upon my strengths to get through this middle phase of life with as much optimism as I can muster. As Jones sings in "Transform," "I've got to change what's in my head, have a new take on the world."