The long-delayed John Howard revival continues with another slice of classic ’70s lushness. Can You Hear Me OK should have was scheduled for release in 1976 but never made it, though there was a single – I Got My Lady and You’re Mine Tonight.
The former is certainly one of the highlights of the album, and comes with a fascinating time-capsule of a video – John in his beautiful youth (though I think the teeth are better now…) complete with grand piano, hamming it up for all he’s worth with a smile as cheesy as Russ Conway, for those with long enough memories.
The sound is also schmaltzier than either Kid In A Big World or Technicolour Biography: the strings almost take over at times, and there’s little of the lyrical bite of Goodbye Susie or Family Man. This, one must assume, was John in a sunny period of his life, with most of the songs about requited love for a change – “Now that the days begin much brighter / now that my head feels much lighter…” is the refrain of You Keep Me Steady.
There are notable exceptions though – the title of Finally Adored is deceptive. “O Baby though you probably made it your shelf’s like a chemist’s because you can’t cope / you still fall in love and it still makes you choke…” This is one of the tracks demonstrating the keen wit and sharp eye of the songwriter, and a welcome relief.
The intro to the title track could have come from a ’70s sitcom signature tune, leading in to a rather charming song of unsure love declared over a restaurant meal. I can almost see the flock wallpaper and the prawn cocktail. You’re Mine Tonight is the opposite – no hesitance here, he’s scored.
The four bonus tracks are quite extraordinary and have to be heard. The first commercially-released Trevor Horn productions and never before available on CD, they were released as two singles in 1978 and 1979 and reveal a completely different side of John Howard – and a different voice.
I Can Breathe Again could almost be The Bee Gees, with John doing more than a passable imitation of Robin Gibb – his falsetto is sensational. Don’t Shine Your Light is just as infectious, with some great lyrics. You Take My Breath Away slows the pace down from disco to smoochy slow dance, and Baby Go Now is a classic love song somewhere in the middle. If these were re-released they’d knock the spots off most current singles…
If the production of the original album tracks is a bit too saccharine for me, John Howard’s skill as a songwriter is never in question and the bonus tracks make up for them in spades. I’m really looking forward to the release of his new material in the Autumn, though.