“My grandfather introduced me to the guitar,” Howard Jones said in between songs during a show in Philadelphia in support of his “Dream into Action” album a generation ago. “The synthesizer is the new guitar.”
Jones, 64, became a synth star during the mid-80s. However, his catchy and upbeat songs failed to receive enough respect. His well-constructed tunes hold up, unlike some ’80s staples such as the drum machine, acid wash jeans and high hair.
The unpredictable British musician, who crafted 2009’s “Ordinary Heroes,” which is a piano and strings project and 2015’s instrumental album, “Engage,” has jumped around sonically.
However, Jones returns to the “Back to the Future” era with his latest album, “Transform.” It’s a nice move by Jones recording songs that sound like they were pulled from an ’80s time capsule. The new collection is primarily composed of baroque synth pop, which alternates between thoughtful and anthemic.
“The ’80s gets a bad rap, but some incredible music was made back then,” Jones said by phone from Los Angeles. “Many musicians from that period challenged themselves. I was never about the status quo. Some people have issues with electronic music, but the reality is that electronic was the music of the day. I’m convinced that if Beethoven and Mozart were around during the ’80s, they would have explored electronic music. It was the music of the times.”
A number of young bands, including Bleachers and Smallpools, are crafting electronic songs inspired by synth-driven bands from the Reagan era.
“There’s no doubt about that,” Jones said. “The music that came out of the ’80s has had an impact on these younger musicians. I remember being young and doing what I wanted to do. If I didn’t take chances, I wouldn’t have made this music.”
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
Jones’ poignant “No One is to Blame” peaked at No. 4 on the Billboard pop charts. “Like to Get to Know You Well,” “Life in One Day” and “Things Can Only Get Better” hit the Top 40 in the United States.
“There was nothing like having success in America,” Jones said. “The fans were so excited about what I was doing. They were so intense. Fans still love those songs and that allows me to continue to tour in the U.S. today.”
It never mattered to Jones that he didn’t earn universal critical acclaim back in his heyday.
“It was never about the reviews,” he said. “Some people weren’t crazy about what I was doing then, but I did what I had to do. I look back at the ’80s and it was a golden era of pop music. There was some great music and there was some forgettable music by groups no one talks about today.”
What separated Jones from other ’80s acts, like Sigue Sigue Sputnik, Kajagoogoo, and Frankie Goes to Hollywood, is that the Southhampton, England, native has always been very serious about his craft.
“I didn’t goof around,” he said. “It wasn’t about cultivating some image for me. It was about the music.”
Jones crafted deep songs during the height of his popularity. Each tune was packed with a message.
“I never sang, ‘I love you, baby,’” Jones said. “I never had that desire to write a mindless, predictable song. I always had that little philosophical element and there was always hope in my songs. I think part of the reason the songs work today is because we can use some songs that have some philosophy and some hope as well.”
When Jones performs March 5 at the Mississippi Moon Bar in Dubuque’s Diamond Jo Casino, he’ll deliver his hits as part of an acoustic trio. He’ll be joined by Robin Boult on guitar and Nick Beggs on Chapman Stick, a stringed instrument from the guitar family, resembling a wide fretboard.
ARTICLE CONTINUES BELOW ADVERTISEMENT
“It’s been a fascinating career,” Jones said. “I’m thrilled that it continues. I get to play the old songs and make new music.”
• What: Howard Jones Acoustic Trio, with Rachel Sage opening
• Where: Mississippi Moon Bar, Diamond Jo Casino, 301 Bell St., Dubuque
• When: 7:30 p.m. March 5
• Tickets: $35 to $45; Moonbarrocks.com/events
• Artist’s website: Howardjones.com