Synthpop pioneer Howard Jones’ 13th studio album – yes, THIRTEENTH, although it’s unlikely that you can name many more than debut Human’s Lib (1984) and Dream Into Action (1985) – features two tracks, specifically Hero In Your Eyes and Eagle Will Fly Again, lifted from the 2016 biopic about skijumper Eddie ‘the eagle’ Edwards (aptly named Eddie The Eagle). But to describe, as the PR blurb does, the film’s setting of 1988, when Edwards captured a nation’s heart during the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, as being at a time when Jones was “conquering the world’s music scene” is laughable.
Let’s correct that as a starting point. Following 1986’s third LP One To One, he never troubled the UK Top 10 – or any other – again. He had already peaked with the first two releases, efforts blessed with work that’s never been equalled including New Song, What Is Love?, Hide And Seek and No One Is To Blame, the first three of which came from the excellent chart-topping debut. In fact, Transform has just become his first album to chart at all – anywhere – since 1989’s Cross That Line (UK Number 64), meaning that if you fell off your chair with the ‘album number 13’ declaration, you’re probably not alone.
The album opens with its best track – The One To Love You – where synths drift in and out whilst dishing out the best chorus you’ll hear in the whole collection; it’s not in the same league as those early career gems, of course, but it’s probably way better than you expect. From thereon in, though, results vary dramatically.
Take Us Higher is uninspiring, awash with lacklustre, err, everything. Beating Mr Neg goes from an interesting opening few bars to cheesy glitz. Eagle Will Fly Again threatens to steal from Jones’ own back catalogue as Equality and New Song are both recalled, whilst the anthem-aiming At The Speed Of Love sounds a little like Hide And Seek, possibly due to its major/minor chord changes.
The piano based Mother is considerably better though, as is the impressive title track where things tick along slower and seem a lot less cluttered, its simple yet effective synth hook being its main pull. Tin Man Song also benefits from a more minimalist approach, the chorus a particular selling point. Closer Stay With Me, though, finishes off with more mediocrity.
Jones said of Hero In Your Eyes: “I used a pallet of sounds that I used when I first started my one man electronic shows in the early ’80s.” But to be frank, at times it feels like it’s not just this track. It’s like you’re stuck in a timewarp, urging him to update his sound – which, to be fair, he does in places. But the overriding feeling that you could close your eyes and think at times that you’re listening to a Stock, Aitken and Waterman creation or some dodgy Eurovision entries – or, even worse, Kajagoogoo – means Transform only occasionally hints at the quality and talent shown during those early to mid-’80s high flying years.