‘Transform’ sees a welcome full-on return to (almost) pure synthesis for Jones after exploring more singer/songwriter acoustic piano/string avenues during the past few decades.
‘Transform’ also sees a rare artist collaboration in the form of Brian Transeau aka BT, the respected dance producer best known for his pioneering trance work including ‘Flaming June’ and his intricate production work for US boyband N-SYNC on the track ‘Pop’.
The album kicks off with the first of three BT joint works, ‘The One To Love You’ which plays to the strength of both artists, spotlighting Transeau’s exemplary sound design and Jones’ distinctive songwriting style. If anything, the song is highly evocative of the work of JON & VANGELIS with its LinnDrum programming and CS80-style synth textures and means that ‘Transform’ really hits the ground running.
‘Take Us Higher’ is the first of two shuffling 6/8 time signature numbers on ‘Transform’ and it’s interesting seeing Jones approach this kind of direction after it being appropriated by many synth-based artists down the years from GOLDFRAPP through to AESTHETIC PERFECTION.
The other is the previously released ‘Eagle Will Fly Again’ which first appeared on the soundtrack to the ‘Eddie The Eagle’ feature film. In his recent interview with ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK, he revealed that working on the film along with the process of remastering his first two albums had reignited his love of older synths and drum machines, thus informing the overall electronic aesthetic of ‘Transform’.
Also from the ‘Eddie The Eagle’ film, ‘Hero in Your Eyes’ illustrates this usage of vintage gear both in the track and the promo video; featuring his early signature analogue equipment including a Roland Jupiter 8, Moog Prodigy and Sequential Circuits Pro One. Like many of the tracks on ‘Transform’, the track is a perfect mixture of vintage HOWARD JONES combined with a modern production sheen.
The title track to ‘Transform’ is the second joint work with BT and provides an uplifting combination of JAM & LEWIS-influenced production alongside sweeping portamento monosynths and lush analogue synth chords. The song breaks down in the middle with robotic vocodered vocals and like ‘The One To Love You’, showcases a perfect musical fit between the two artists.
‘Beating Mr. Neg’ is an epic sequencer-driven piece which explores the flipside of one of Jones’ favourite topics, positivity; in the song, negativity is given a character to represent that all familiar nagging voice of doubt in our heads. Sonically the uplifting chorus is reminiscent of some of OMD’s more recent work and then at the four minute mark breaks down into an ambient coda with the “I can win this time” line floating over 90 seconds of heavily reverberated pianos.
The third of the trilogy of BT collaborations, ‘At The Speed of Love’ drops the tempo with ‘Vienna’ inspired electro percussion; although not the strongest track here, it is beautifully produced and does provide a welcome change of pace.
‘Transform’ ends in upbeat fashion with the funk-inflected ‘Stay With Me’; the usage of some Nile Rogers’ rhythm guitar and vocodered vocals driving the track along.
It’s been four years since HOWARD JONES’ last work ‘Engage’ and ‘Transform’ shows that this time period has been put to highly productive use; the key strength of his highly recognisable and emotive vocal remains unchanged since his imperial heyday and his new material shows that he is still pushing and capable of producing quality synthpop.
Long-term fans will undoubtedly love the songs here, and those that have maybe not delved into his work for a while should certainly investigate ‘Transform’.
‘Transform’ is released on 10th May 2019 by Dtox Records as a deluxe 2CD with book, standard CD, vinyl LP and download
Birmingham Symphony Hall (23rd May), Southend Cliffs Pavilion (24th May), London Palladium (25th May), Cardiff St David’s Hall (26th May), Leicester De Montfort Hall (29th May), Manchester Bridgewater Hall (30th May), Edinburgh Queens Hall (31st May), Gateshead Sage (1st June)
Text by Paul Boddy
Photos by Simon Fowler
10th May 2019