All-Time Albums: #2



Conditioning 4:32
What Is Love? 3:45 (UK single, #2)
Pearl In The Shell 4:03 (UK single, #7)
Hide And Seek 5:34 (UK single, #12)
Hunt The Self 3:42
New Song 4:15 (UK single, #3)
Don’t Always Look At The Rain 4:13
Equality 4:26
Natural 4:25
Human’s Lib 4:03

Perhaps it’s fitting that my #2 album of all-time was the second one I ever bought, and my first on vinyl (having opted for the extended cassette version of Into The Gap a couple of weeks earlier). I am not exaggerating when I say Human’s Lib is probably the most important and influential album in my life, or at least it was back then, and continued to be for a good while.

Whatever the reason behind my eureka moment in October 1983, listening to the UK Top 40 on the Sunday evening when New Song jumped from number 13 to 5, it’s safe to say that it was the moment pop music took over my world. Why should New Song have been the one? Why Howard Jones?

I don’t have a good answer for that. Obviously, it’s a great record and that synth riffing still gives me goosebumps, but there has to be more to it. Still, that record is probably the reason I am still writing about pop music and still immersed in all the good and bad stuff which surrounds it over 30 years later.

I wonder too, if WEA – then still a fledgling European offshoot of the mighty Warner Brothers empire (the catalogue number of Human’s Lib is WX1) – really expected the level of sustained success that followed HoJo’s breakthrough into the Top 3 of the singles chart that autumn. By the turn of the year, his second single What Is Love? was only prevented from making #1 by Paul McCartney’s Pipes of Peace. For all New Song’s upbeat charm, What Is Love? was on a different level altogether; a fantastic, brooding, introspective and yet simultaneously sing-a-long anthem. And so, with his opening brace of singles, the ongoing juxtaposition of the idealistic and almost hippy-esque positivity with a darker strain of moody synth pop was established.

Where the Human’s Lib album gets it so completely spot-on (and hardly any of his subsequent albums did not) is the balance between these two sides of his (musical) personality. New Song’s chirpiness is only repeated to any degree on Pearl In The Shell and Natural, yet the arrangements of both are more sophisticated and nuanced than later fare such as Life In One Day, Everlasting Love and nineties efforts like Lift Me Up. Human’s Lib is never, ever bland.

Human’s Lib also has absolutely no filler of any sort, even taking into account any possible bias and rose-titnted nostalgia. The tracklisting runs like a mini-Greatest Hits with the majority of its material, in various forms, remaining key to his live repertoire to this day.

The quartet of hit singles unsurprisingly stand out, with Hide & Seek arguably the finest moment of his career (though it peaked outside the Top 10 on release, it sold close to 200,000 copies and surely paved the way for the album to debut at #1). Many tipped it to go all the way, but it was probably just too ethereal and slow-building for the 1984 charts. HoJo has revisited it in all manner of styles, from a stark piano-only version (as at Live Aid), an orchestrally-enchanced approach (for a 1986 B-side), and even a 9-minute bluesy guitar meditation for 2000’s Pefawm project.

Hide & Seek is the album’s centrepiece, but the other ballad Don’t Always Look At The Rain isn’t far behind (it’s almost a shame, given what happened on the 2nd album Dream Into Action, that he didn’t hold the song back for that record). Rupert Hine’s fantastic production bathes the track in a sea of effects and melancholy synths (indeed, Hine’s box of studio tricks are utilised to brilliant effect all across the album).

For a boy on the threshold of being a teenager, it was the likes of Conditioning and Hunt The Self which struck the greatest chord however. The Thompson Twins made crafted, intelligent pop to die for, but there wasn’t a lot to be found in the lyrics that could leap out at you, and make you think, or find something to identify with. I think that was the key both to Howard/Human’s Lib being such a success, and also why he/it made such an impact on me personally. Not even his closest peer Nik Kershaw had that in his armoury; the songs of Human Racing and The Riddle were often more world-weary and written from a more cynical perspective.

Maybe that’s why as the 80s rolled on, I found myself preferring Nik’s albums to later HoJo efforts.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s