[Review] Howard Jones: Human’s Lib (1984)

Right place, right time and rightfully regarded as one of the more likeable synthesizer pop albums to emerge in the mid 80s.

Kronomyth 1.0: Howard the golden goose.

Thomas Dolby hosting a self-help seminar. That was my initial impression of Howard Jones’ first album. If that sounds like a slight, note that Jones himself probably would have seen the comparison as a compliment (Dolby was the patron saint of the synthesizer in the 80s). And there’s no denying that Human’s Lib is far more listenable than Dolby’s second album, The Flat Earth. In fact, it went on to quickly establish Jones as one of the bright lights in the mid-80s new wave scene, even topping the UK charts.

If it’s not a staple in my music collection, Human’s Lib hardly needs my validation. By the time it arrived, I had already amassed a pretty large collection of synthesizer pop records by Ultravox, Gary Numan, The Human League, Thomas Dolby, Duran Duran, Visage, The The, Classix Nouveaux… well, you get the point. So, while I could appreciate Howard Jones’ melodies, modish hair and mastery of the synthesizer, it wasn’t a revelation to me. Apparently, it was for others, and that’s wonderful.

The album is notable for several successful singles: “What Is Love?,” “New Song,” “Pearl in the Shell” and “Hide and Seek.” In my admittedly worthless opinion, only “What Is Love?” has stood the test of time as a timeless hit. The rest of the record is extremely competent and often clever synthesizer pop with a slightly dark and deep streak. A few of the songs could even pass for Dolby (“Conditioning,” “Pearl in the Shell”) or Ultravox (“Human’s Lib), two of the more sinister purveyors of synthesizer pop. Most of the time, though, Jones prefers a positive message, influenced in large part by the spiritual teachings of his friend, William Bryant.

Despite his reliance on electronics, Jones makes an emotional connection with his music. Although his vocals are frequently masked, there are times when he reminds me of Simon Le Bon, Sting or even Steve Winwood, none of whom could be called bad singers. One nit I have with Human’s Lib is that Howard Jones doesn’t break off his vocal chains more frequently, since he clearly has a good voice.

Of minor interest, the original compact disc included a bonus instrumental, “China Dance,” which sounds like you expect it would: vaguely Oriental synthesizer music. I’ve read that this album was re-released in an expanded edition, which seems warranted given its commercial success. That said, I can do without about half of Human’s Lib, so doubling it isn’t likely to double my pleasure. An expanded edition of Telekon? Yeah, I’m totally down with that.

Original elpee version

A1. Conditioning (music: Howard Jones, lyrics: William Bryant) (4:32)
A2. What Is Love? (music: Howard Jones, lyrics: Howard Jones/William Bryant) (3:45)
A3. Pearl in the Shell (Howard Jones) (4:03)
A4. Hide and Seek (Howard Jones) (5:34)
A5. Hunt the Self (music: Howard Jones, lyrics: William Bryant/Howard Jones) (3:42)
B1. New Song (Howard Jones) (4:15)
B2. Don’t Always Look at the Rain (Howard Jones) (4:13)
B3. Equality (music: Howard Jones, lyrics: William Bryant/Howard Jones) (4:26)
B4. Natural (music: Howard Jones, lyrics: William Bryant) (4:25)
B5. Human’s Lib (music: Howard Jones, lyrics: William Bryant) (4:03)

CD bonus track
11. China Dance (3:49)

The Players

Howard Jones (vocals, instruments) with Davey Payne (saxophone on A3), Stephen W. Tayler (saxophone on A3). Produced by Rupert Hine except B1 produced by Colin Thurston; engineered and mixed by Stephen W. Tayler.

The Pictures

Painting by Steg. Photography by Simon Fowler.

The Plastic

Released on elpee, cassette and expanded compact disc in March 1984 in the UK (WEA, WX1/WXC1), the US (Elektra, 60346-1/4/2), Canada and Germany (240 335) and Japan (WEA, P-11469) with lyrics innersleeve. Reached #1 on the UK charts and #59 on the US charts.

1 thought on “[Review] Howard Jones: Human’s Lib (1984)

  1. Also, Dave, in case you haven’t seen them, have a look at the comments I wrote for Genesis’ From Genesis to Revelation and AC/DC’s Dirty Deeds.

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