BY XAVIER JOHNSON
Synth-pop, and by extension new wave, peaked in the 80’s with groups like Depeche Mode and Pet Shop Boys pushing the limits of electronic music and providing the soundtrack for all types of venues; from London dance joints to alleyway goth clubs. One of the pioneering artists of the genre is Howard Jones, a British multi-instrumentalist and producer that was a fixture on the United Kingdom charts in the 80’s and early 90’s. He kept up his usual output in the aughts with four records including the two-part Piano Solos (For Friends and Loved Ones) in 2003 and 2006.
The 67-year-old veteran producer has 14 albums under his belt. His signature brand of synth-pop excels because of its sonic diversity. His albums deliver different moods, keeping the tracklists fresh. There’s a nice mix of 80’s flare fused with modern stylings, much of which was directly influenced by the work that Jones and his contemporaries did decades ago.
Jones is back in 2022 with a new record Dialogue, which represents a continued renewed musical spark coming off a ten-year hiatus from 2009 to 2019. His return album, 2019’s Transform, was a well-received release that delivered a tight, 10-track experience that contained the trademark diversity and rhythm. Produced in collaboration with fellow Brit and established producer Robbie Bronnimann, Dialogue is propped up by impeccably crisp production that allows every element to stand out. His most recent effort packs plenty of interesting ideas into its eight tracks. Jones flexes his complete range of skills from production to singing. “Celebrate It Together” kicks off the album and is a slick danceable jam. The synth elements are accented by a funky guitar. It’s a light, fun romp that snatches the audience’s attention.
There’s a sudden shift on the heavy and spacey “Formed by the Stars.” The vocals are drenched in effects, producing beautiful harmonies for the chorus that sends the listener flying through space with the stars rushing past them. The keyboard solo on the backend is great and enhances this hopeful anthem. It’s a song about perseverance and finding meaning, which ties in perfectly with the overall cosmic vibe. “My One True Love,” maintains much of the same energy found on “Formed by the Stars” with these backing synths that coat the track, but this time delivering a distinctly mystifying energy. Jones dips into his upper register with soaring falsettos on the chorus. It’s a fantastic encapsulation of the new wave sound that he helped pioneer. This is the only track that feels like it was ripped straight from the 80’s. From the tone to the lyrics, it’s a total throwback that’s ensconced in the energy of a previous era, but still sounds timeless rather than dated.
The most catchy moments come with a pair of tracks that sit in the middle: “Be the Hero” and “Who You Really Want to Be.” The former is a sleepy new wave tune marked by densely layered choruses preceded by sparse verses creating a wonderful contrast. The latter switches things up and delivers high-energy synth-pop with all the fixings from a first-rate vocoder to synthesized arpeggios that persist throughout. “You Are the Peacemaker” maintains a steady pace, opting to establish a mood and ride it for four minutes. The shimmering notes that dart around complement Jones’s distorted, ethereal vocals. Both Jones and Bronniman nailed the tone of the instrumentation. Another strong production moment comes on the penultimate track, and the longest, “To Feel Love.” The vocals are at their most robotic, almost unrecognizable. They are elevated by a bright, summery melody that culminates in a solid bridge with a head-thumping rhythm.
Dialogue ends as it started with a fun dance bop. Instead of leaning into his pop roots, Jones dishes out a groovy rock tune with a slick bassline and even some horn hits. The closer is a nice representation of why Dialogue succeeds. It has a sticky chorus that’s easy to remember and sing along to. There’s a vintage quality to the music that still manages to sound fresh. It’s a credit to Jones’s musicianship that he’s able to stick to his roots while adopting modern sensibilities. Dialogue is absolutely worth listening to for fans of any form of pop. The songs are solid and some might even make that holiday party playlist.