❉ Hailing from 1989, Jones’ fourth album saw him moving further into the realms of the bizarre yet personal…
“Hailing from 1989, Cross That Line saw Howard moving further still into the realms of the bizarre yet personal. The songs reflect obsessions of the man, both great and small. It’s one of those albums that feels very like one man’s manifesto, a status report on the singer’s mind as events unfold around him, and us.”
YOUR RIDDLE, SHOULD YOU CHOOSE TO ACCEPT IT…
Here’s a confession for you. When this showed up on the titles to be reviewed, I leapt at it. For entirely the wrong reason. In a momentary brain-fog, I thought to myself, ‘that bloke who did The Riddle? That’s one of my favourite songs! I could write a whole piece just analysing that!’ Only when I’d placed my request, suddenly feeling very like Ray Stantz thinking of the least harmful emissary of Gozer that he could, did I realise my mistake. I’d got my Eighties electronic troubadours in a twist. This album wasn’t by Nik Kershaw! It was by Howard Jones! How did I get those two confused? Too late. The summons had been made, and the Terrible Gent was about to unleash my very own musical Mr Stay-Puft monster. I had two choices. Leg it, or stand and review. Feeling foolhardy, I chose the latter.
In the tune which introduced him to the record-buying public in general, Howard had memorably urged us to drop our mental chains. It was time for me to do just that.
Hailing from 1989 in its original form, Cross That Line saw Howard moving further still into the realms of the bizarre yet personal. The songs reflect obsessions of the man, both great and small. It’s one of those albums that feels very like one man’s manifesto, a status report on the singer’s mind as events unfold around him, and us.
‘Some people believe a photograph can trap your immortal soul…’
From such paranoid beginnings, The Prisoner weaves an ultimately hopeful narrative of what began as unnerving obsession, if not outright stalking, evolving into a mutually-dependent love, two immortal souls entwined in contact, the taking of control somehow forming a beneficial completeness. It’s an enigmatic yet optimistic opener to the album.
‘She wasn’t thinking of tomorrow, or of next week…’
In the next track, the doubts have gone, the control has become a meeting of equals. Everlasting Love is a simple paean to the power of a pure, enduring link between two people. Maybe, the lyric says, none of us can hope to find such a link quickly, but always there is the promise of love worth waiting for. Howard’s vocals have a cheerful honesty which speaks directly to the heart here, and it’s a stand-out track.
Howard openly describes Powerhouse as his clubbing track. With ethereal, surging guest vocals from Inga Humpe, it’s easy to understand why. Throw in a driving, infectious beat, laced with triumphant, jaunty brass, an anthem not just to the outright lovers of the World, but to those straightforward, reliable friends who help to hold body and soul together, come what may. If you can’t dance joyfully to this one, then there’s something wrong with you.
‘We have created a suffering circle…’
With Last Supper, some inevitable cracks are showing in whatever may come. The story of a relationship reaching its end, its redemption lies in the genuine warmth that still exists on both sides. We are advised, often, to set someone free if you love them. This song is a moving, tender tribute to the idea that partings need not always be ones of anger and recrimination, the perfect tune for anyone who has a past love that they still remember fondly, rather than with tears of bitterness, and is genuinely beautiful.
‘When you cross that line, there’s no turning back…’
And then, with a deceptively relaxed – or is that indifferent? – musical arrangement, comes what Howard himself calls ‘the nuclear option’, as Cross That Line presents the down side of such a situation, a piece of smooth jazz which delineates the end of a relationship due to a (mutual?) breaking of trust. The late Claudia Fontaine’s icily-detached counterpoint vocals provide the fine detail on a tale of an affair where, frankly, neither side cares if they never see each other again. Serene yet heart-breaking.
Insert rippling piano solo here…
Time for some reflection, whether the break-up has been amicable or otherwise, comes with the stately instrumental, Out Of Thin Air. This elegant piece speaks directly to the soul, shifting from disturbing glissandos of uncertainty to a gentle, thoughtful meditation on the possibilities to come. But to attain such possibilities, sometimes a certain recharging of one’s spiritual batteries is a necessity, and on occasion that may not be so straightforward…
‘How much abuse can this skin take?…’
Reflections of such nature can also lead us to contemplate the dismaying on a much greater scale. Guardians Of The Breath takes a detached yet alarmed look at the World herself in distress, a planet suffering from the depredations of Humanity, arguably the ultimate example of a relationship which can easily go horribly wrong. For all of its measured pace, both anger and fear live at its core.
‘You have the energy to recharge these batteries…’
Sometimes, it can definitely feel as though the World is weighing down on your shoulders personally. As though you’re the only one striving, the only one suffering. It’s self-indulgent, but it’s true. And, at such times, as someone else once sang, we get by with a little help from our friends. Fresh Air Waltz is a gentle, lilting reminder that we all experience such bad days, and that, given the support of others, we can yet escape their web and create something new, something glorious.
‘The bottle of whisky, just one of my vices…’
If Wonders To You has a consistent message to give, then it is, as the Buddha told us, that all is a veil of illusions. Its lyrics speak of the double-edged blade that comprises self-delusion – sometimes a necessary vice – and the imagination that raises us above the petty injustices of personal reality, offering maybe a chance of easy escape, or, more productively, the very real opportunity to change things for the better. Maybe, in the end, fantasising – deployed properly – can be the catalyst for something true, and something of worth. Beneath the cynicism, there is always the reality of hope.
‘There are those who move clouds…’
Opening with the voice of Gorbachev, the brilliant, humane man who had the courage to break the spell of Mutually Assured Destruction, and closing with the laughter of Howard’s then-infant son Osh, Those Who Move Clouds is a quietly triumphant climax which affirms the seductive power of the dream, and the satisfying fulfilment of being prepared to make such a reverie a positive, improving reality. Its whole feeling is fittingly celestial, near to ethereal, punctuated by firmer vocal stabs of intention: a powerful conclusion to an ultimately optimistic and compassionate thesis.
There are several other tracks – Modern Man, The Brutality Of Fact, Power Of The Media, Rubber Morals, and Have You Heard The News? – but, tellingly, when Howard discusses the album with Anil Prasad in the extensive sleeve notes, he makes no mention of them at all. Taken together, they form an effective mini-suite playing variations on the theme of the obfuscatory power of so many sources of news around us all, a collective counterpoint to the album’s main theme of the potencies of both Fantasy and Reality and their conjunctions, and are probably best dealt with as such. The mortar necessary to hold the bricks together, they are easy to forget the structural importance of, but here underpin the musical brickwork of the album proper with admirable solidity.
Further to this central core, the comprehensive box set includes two further CDs, home of many early, rehearsal, and re-mix takes on the keystone tracks from the whole – The Prisoner, Powerhouse, Cross That Line and Everlasting Love – in sufficiency for any fan of Howard and his works who delight in seeing what myriad spins can be put upon each piece. And, rounding off the whole thing in marvellous style, there’s also a DVD containing an extensive interview with, and further track-by-track commentary from, Howard, and the promo videos for the two singles from the album – latter-day Bond credits designer Daniel Kleinman’s eerie take on the central conceit of The Prisoner, with snapshots coming to evocative, animated life, and the complete, frivolous contrast of Gary Weis’s take on Everlasting Love, with two star-crossed Egyptian-looking mummies wandering about modern London doing very silly things. Between them, they almost perfectly summarise Howard’s two key faces in this creation – the concerned, and the joyful.
Over thirty years ago, Howard retired from the big studios, retreated to the home-built one that he christened The Shed, and created this album, a fittingly personal venue for such a personal work. Over thirty years on, the results remain engaging, thoughtful, and uplifting.
Maybe I need to be more Ray Stantz in future.
❉ Packaged in a digipack with a fully illustrated 16-page booklet containing a brand new sleevenote and track by track annotation about Cross That Line by Howard Jones as told to acclaimed writer Anil Prasad.
❉ Featuring an expanded selection of previously unreleased studio versions and remixes plus newly remastered tracks.
❉ Includes a DVD (NTSC/Region Free) containing a brand new interview with Howard Jones from May 2020 discussing Creating the Cross That Line album, a Track By Track Commentary as well as Promotional Videos.
❉ ‘Howard Jones: Cross That Line’ Expanded Deluxe 3CD/1DVD Set (PCDEXRED813) is available from Cherry Red Records, RRP £23.99. Click here to order directly from Cherry Red Records.
❉ Ken Shinn is a lifelong fan of all things cult and is a regular contributor to We Are Cult. His 55 years have seen him contribute to works overseen by the likes of TV Cream and the British Horror Films Group, as well as a whole batch of short stories of the fantastic, with his first novel on the way. Whatever the field, he intends to enjoy Cult in all its forms for many years to come.