John Howard : Collected The Best Of John Howard – album review

John Howard – Collected The Best Of John Howard Kool Kat Musik CD/DL Released 14 May 2021 First commercially issued career overview/best of from singer songwriter John Howard, reaching right back to early demos I’ll Feel What I Feel and 3 Years, which both predated his debut single Goodbye Susie from 1974. The set comes […] The post John Howard : Collected The Best Of John Howard – album review appeared first on Louder Than War.

John Howard : Collected The Best Of John Howard – album review

John Howard – Collected The Best Of John Howard

Kool Kat Musik

CD/DL

Released 14 May 2021

First commercially issued career overview/best of from singer songwriter John Howard, reaching right back to early demos I’ll Feel What I Feel and 3 Years, which both predated his debut single Goodbye Susie from 1974. The set comes right up to date with selections from his recent albums and the 2020 single In The Stillbeat Of A Silent Day. This collection has been by put together by Edward Rogers and mastered by The Night Mail’s Ian Button. Ian Canty collects his thoughts…

John Howard’s remarkable 21st century renaissance has brought into sharp focus the fact that he’s never been subject to a properly released career best of set. With a wealth of great material to choose from over the years, it is rather startling this was the case. But now we have a 2CD entitled Collected, that seeks to put things right.

Emerging through the folk clubs, John was eventually noticed by CBS Records as a promising artist and offered the young man a recording contract. During this time he developed a startlingly cool image to go along with his musical abilities and was presented by promotion and advertising as a kind of post-glam space balladeer. After the breakthrough to mainstream success didn’t arrive, mostly due to blanket radio bans on his singles, he spent a long time away from performing, instead involved himself in a successful second career in A&R. The hugely positive reaction to the reissue of the Kid In A Big World album in 2005 helped to reignite his muse and since then he has produced a host of critically acclaimed works.

Fittingly, Collected begins with that first single for CBS, Goodbye Susie. A lovely, evocative sound that announced this newcomer with a confidence and poise like few others, it was unfortunately subject to one of those BBC radio bans mentioned above, which meant that the disc’s clear hit potential was sadly never realised. But even despite that, the song is a fantastic achievement, painting a vivid, truly alive picture in sound and words.

The jaunty sound of The Dilemma Of A Homosapien taken from the As I Was Saying LP follows, an elegantly crafted and performed effort. Dear Glitterheart, the closing track from the LP The Dangerous Hours, then finds John in full flow, vocally he’s superb and that is something Collected proves has endured right through the years. What a voice. 1976 single I Got My Lady is a bit more of an oddity, placing a kind of buried reggae beat under a stately pop arrangement. It’s great fun and then we come to the title track from the Can You Hear Me Ok? collection, which is a lovely pop nugget that deserved to be pumping out of radios all over the country in 1970s. Alas it wasn’t to be, but it is still a terrific sound.

Oh Dad, (Look What You Done) from the shelved 70s selection Technicolour Biography is playful and bright, then it is time for Kid In A Big World from his debut album, a touching and beautiful realised piece of orchestrated pop. There’s three decades between this and the heart-warming These Fifty Years from 2005, but it follows on seamlessly. The race back and forth between the years that Collected undertakes doesn’t seem important, there’s a consistency here which makes it all appear logical, nothing jars. Take Up Your Partners (Finale), the dramatic climax to Technicolour Biography, is a piano-based offering that gallops along with abundant vim.

Life Is Never What We Want It To Be also comes from As I was Saying and is full of humour and a hard-worn knowledge of life’s pitfalls. A queasy synth, piano and country guitar part embellish the introduction of Frightened Now, before the tune develops coolly and Be Not So Fearful, a cover of a Bill Fay song, lyrically provides a natural counterpoint. This highlights the taste and sense that has been applied on Collected in putting together the running order. Next from 2006’s Same Bed, Different Dreams comes Stardust Falling (For Jobriath), a sparkling, livewire ode to a fallen glam fellow traveller.

The My Beautiful Days single from 2007 is the just the type of voice and piano piece that John does so well, but one that assumes the guise of a witty, self-deprecating pep talk and Family Man, a comic social satire, comes complete with what sounds very like the chimes of a xylophone, though I could be wrong. Both portray the dry wit and good old common sense that is a Howard trademark. Believe Me Richard chugs along merrily in a sumptuous style. It worked the neat trick of making me believe in the characters involved in relatively few words, the story just ringing true and the scene set “while The Beatles sing love is all you need”. The subtly evoked, soaring piano ballad Loving You follows in grand style.

Small Town, Big Adventures and Technicolour Biography represent a sort of early tour de force at the end of the first disc of Collected, two tracks from John’s CBS days which helped to set out his stall as a writer to be reckoned with. Small Town, Big Adventures comes across as cool as ice post glam pop/rock, busy and bewitching strange. As a contrast Technicolour Biography is heavenly sounding and emotional, a sharply observed genuine showstopper.

Disc two of Collected commences with 3 Years, recording way back in 1973 at Chappell Studios in London. This is a pretty and lively folk pop number with some good and quite prominent guitar picking. We flip forward 12 months for Maybe Some Day In Miami from the debut album, a mix of chamber music and big production theatre songs being expertly tapped into here. Injuries Sustained In Surviving, from last year’s magnificent To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection LP, follows with a real joy de vivre, it is stunning.

Then we have Favourite Chair, adorned with lovely light psych touches and emanating from 2011 and afterwards Something Good follows in a more reflective mood. A 1996 recording of Neil (You Can Depend On Me) belies its stack of 90s pop rock production ticks, presenting an upbeat pop love song. I Can Breathe Again, a disco beat from 1978 and one of the earliest production jobs completed by Trevor Horn, shows John could easily fit in with a dance format. Next comes London Loves You, simply the greatest space glam ballad Suede never wrote.

Becoming owes its origin to the fine Cut The Wire album, a real tug at the heart strings with a lovely, positive ending and Staying At Home Kinda Guy possesses has an almost power pop jangly rush. There’s plenty of variety here, but the true unifying force is simply great tunes. Roddy Frame’s Small World was cut by John in preparation for the version with The Night Mail and for a demo has an unusually lush, double-tracked vocal and dreamy charm.

Again having a more soul feel about it (I’m The) Talk Of The Town breezes in and there is more of a “band” style here too. Another Day brings things almost right up to date, coming from last year’s To The Left Of The Moon’s Reflection long player like Injuries Sustained In Surviving, with the deep church organ sound setting the scene. The bright and snappy Comic Strip again shows John’s eye for finding humour in the oddest places and Snow is also short and sweet, shimmering gracefully into focus.

You’re Mine Tonight brings baroque pop and folk rock sounds together and from there makes it into some of John’s own. Though Collected is by its very nature a look back through John Howard’s back pages, the In The Stillbeat Of A Silent Day single from 2020 shows that at present he’s on the form of his life – it would take someone with a rock-hard heart not to warm to this. There is a real fresh feel to the live take of Deadly Nightshade, again a bit of a Motown dance stomp to this and I’ll Feel What I Feel from Front Room Fables, a collection of home demos from the early 1970s, takes us back to the start in a sense and ends Collected with spirit and guile. It was clear from the off this boy would go far!

Collected – The Best Of John Howard is the perfect starting point if you are new to his music and if you are not, it works to fill in a few gaps. Any way round you want to put it, unique, elegant and listenable pop music as full of insight into life’s mysteries as this don’t come along very often, so this is definitely a compilation that warrants attention. These not a dud to be heard. Treat yourself to hearing to one of the very best practitioners of the songwriting and performing crafts here.

The two CDs of this set are filled pithy logic sense, sometimes brutally frank self-analysis, great melodies that lodge themselves deep in the synapses and of course that superb, one of a kind voice. One of the dangers in pop music is that it can appear fake and puerile in the wrong hands, with simplistic “moon, June” type rhyming lyrics and no grounding in the real world. In sharp contrast John’s compositions instantly come bounding into life, the recognition factor is high and we don’t always get happy endings (but we do occasionally, just like in life). One of the best “best ofs” you are ever likely to hear, Collected is made to be treasured.

John Howard’s website is here and he is on Facebook here

All words by Ian Canty – see his author profile here

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Gary Numan ‘ Intruder’ : album review : Numan continues his brilliant late career flourish with another dystopian epic a

Gary Numan Intruder (BMG) LP/CD/DL Available  from Sister Ray Records here     Gary Numan continues his brilliant late career flourish with another dystopian epic as Simon Buckley reports… Before I begin this review, I think it’s only fair that I declare a possible conflict of interest here, in that I’ve been a fan of […] The post Gary Numan ‘ Intruder’ : album review : Numan continues his brilliant late career flourish with another dystopian epic a appeared first on Louder Than War.

Gary Numan ‘ Intruder’ : album review : Numan continues his brilliant late career flourish with another dystopian epic a

Gary Numan

Intruder

(BMG)

LP/CD/DL

Available  from Sister Ray Records here

 

 

Gary Numan continues his brilliant late career flourish with another dystopian epic as Simon Buckley reports…

Before I begin this review, I think it’s only fair that I declare a possible conflict of interest here, in that I’ve been a fan of Gary Numan ever since I first heard Are Friends Electric in the summer of 1979, drifting from a small transistor radio resting on a garden wall, whilst on holiday in the Isle of Man with my mate Maddy during Wakes week.

My first gig was watching him at Manchester Apollo on his Teletour in 1980, and I got sacked from my local newsagents for doing the paper round in full silver make-up and a trilby. Bolton wasn’t ready for Numanoids in 1981. 

Since then I’ve been to watch Numan many, many times and have even met him through my work as a photographer and writer, once spending a memorable few hours in his Essex house, along  with his wife Gemma, thankfully finding them both to be lovely.  

And so yes, I think it only right that I lay my jumpsuit and red straps on the table before I write about his latest album, Intruder, to be released on May 21st. 

I’d actually had the album to review for several weeks before I finally got round to listening to it, terrified that I wouldn’t like it, and then be forced into a situation where I had to be sincere but, in being so, having to write negatively about my teenage hero, who I know from interviews suffers plenty of self-doubt about his work. 

Thankfully, I needn’t have worried, I think it’s brilliant.

I’d heard the four tracks from the album already released as singles, and read fans forums where there was criticism that he was just repeating Splinter and Savage, the albums from 2013 and 2017. Whilst there are connections, I feel Intruder is an album that has evolved, demonstrating real maturity, delivering perhaps his most emotional work yet, using masterful production and putting fresh air between this and the work of a decade ago.

Numan has said Intruder is about climate change from the planet’s point of view. “Intruder finds the Earth angry and hostile, and more than willing to fight back.” This album delivers an ocean’s worth of passion and anger, presenting songs overflowing with extraordinary energy, thundering across a barren landscape, proclaiming pain at the needless destruction, and a furious confusion at the mess caused by man. Numan, with this work, is an environmental beserker, creating a maze of rhythms and swirling synthesisers, each taking us into a fresh panorama of anguish at the prospect of unstoppable climate change .

The album begins with Betrayed, which has a deep religious quality, the dark vocal melding with deep synths and choral high points to establish an immediate sadness, a continuing cry of torment that echoes throughout each of the 12 songs. The next song, In The Gift, with its delicious Arabian themed chorus, conjures notions of Numan as an impassioned wise man, a traveller shouting down a corrupt king in his indulgent court, creating a sense of chaos that falls across the threatening background layers, orchestral in their ambition and execution.

The title track, Intruder, already released as a single, begins with a marching beat, like a giant on woodblocks, coming ever closer to your place of sanctuary, before delivering the lyrics 

“I could talk about my world
How you brought about ruin
I could talk about your greed
If you want me to?”

A blunt statement, in simple terms, of Numan’s feelings on corruption and human destruction. 

The track Is This World Not Enough with its growling keyboards and echoing vocals, could be a call to arms from a mountain top, like Numan is inciting a group of warrior drummers, choreographed to strike fear into their enemy, stomping steadily towards their foe. And in The Chosen, with its heavy rhythmic start, showing us darkness from which emerges a sledgehammer of rage and energy, Numan’s conversational vocals are revealed, before returning us to a savage dust storm of gliding, electronic wonder. 

There are moments of respite and reflection too, in songs such as Black Sun and The End of Dragons, which allow us to catch our breath before again charging into the darkness and despair of a ruined planet, expressed expertly through Ade Fenton’s tight, multi-layered production, in which no space is created by accident. I can’t wait to see it live, as it will have fans punching the air.

If I have one criticism, it’s that I couldn’t always hear the lyrics as clearly as I would have l liked, given the strong narrative, but this presents the opportunity to sit, as we all once did, reading the sleeve notes and words of each song. 

This is an album as told by a storyteller, with nods and winks to his musical style from the 1980s, for those that know his work from that time. If you don’t much care for Numan’s dark, heavy sounds and pulsating beats, then this album isn’t for you. But for those that love this current version of Gary Numan, this is an album for headphones and closed eyes, a grand arena for the mind and imagination. 

ENDS

Simon Buckley / Not Quite Light

Twitter & Insta @NotQuiteLight

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