Since the release of the ‘Human’s Lib’ box set in 2018, the Howard Jones reissue programme from Cherry Red has been very well curated, but in terms of giving the bigger fan something long overdue and exciting, a five disc box set of BBC recordings (released at the end of 2021) proved essential. It rounded up lots of early radio sessions and also gave an official release to a couple of oft-bootlegged gigs, creating a listening experience that felt comprehensive without being overwhelming. Also, by being offered at a sensible price, it showed how a premium product need not be exclusive to those with deep pockets. In many ways, this collection should set the benchmark for a decent box set. [Read a full review of the Howard Jones BBC box here.]
Beginning with their massive box set celebrating ‘Human’s Lib’ issued in November 2019, Cherry Red Records have really gone the extra mile with their Howard Jones reissues. Each release has been afforded a wealth of extras, including bonus DVDs featuring archive live footage and TV appearances where available, and the addition of demos and alternate takes accompanying the main albums has been a fan’s dream. It was especially pleasing to see some love for Howard’s 1992 release ‘In The Running’, an album which saw him transition from 80s synth pop hero to a slicker, older singer-songwriter. Although overlooked by many at the time, it now stands proudly as one of the most enduring albums in the artist’s catalogue.
Complimenting the vastly expanded studio albums, this five disc box set of live materials allows for a different kind of exploration of HoJo’s past, but in hearing performances recorded between 1983-87 it really brings home the fact that he was, arguably, the greatest synth pop performer of the era.
After a run of synth pop hits, Howard Jones took a musical detour. All artists grow and change, but the bulk of the material on his fifth album ‘In The Running’ (originally released in 1992) presented Jones in a more introspective light. Its ten songs tackled heavyweight subjects like pent up aggression (‘Gun Turned On The World’), mental illness (the self-explanatory ‘The Voices Are Back’) and the need for forgiveness (‘One Last Try’). Musically, his trademark synth pop style was dropped in favour of more of an adult AOR sound, sometimes much closer to Bruce Hornsby, and unfortunately, the UK radio stations seemed less than convinced. The album didn’t yield any massive hits and it subsequently became overlooked by all but the biggest fans.
By the early 2000s, it was much easier to find a copy of ‘In The Running’ from a US cut out bin than anywhere in the UK. A 2012 reissue coupled the album with ‘One To One’ and ‘Cross That Line’ and associated extras, but aside from a cover of Donald Fagen’s ‘IGY’ (released as a single in ’93) it didn’t offer much by way of ‘Running’ era extras. With that in mind, a massive reissue coupling the original album with a wealth of extra period material was something of a necessity. This four disc set from Cherry Red (issued in April 2021) aims to be the last word for ‘In The Running’, since it features a truckload of remixes and extra goodies alongside a DVD where Howard reflects on a much underrated work.
In September 1983, a young man from Southampton made his first appearance on Top of The Pops. Armed with a then state of the art synthesiser, huge pineapple shaped haircut and a visual aid in the form of a bendy mime artist, he requested we “throw off our mental chains” and made an instant impression with many teenagers watching. That man was Howard Jones. His debut hit single ‘New Song’ was at the cutting edge of the synth pop movement and his gift for a catchy chorus quickly set him apart from hundreds of other potential electronic pop stars. With the help of subsequent hits ‘What Is Love’ and ‘Pearl In The Shell’, Jones became one of the biggest stars of the following year.