80s pop heroes return with the polished pop which brought them their former glories, but times have changed
You heard right: Johnny Hates Jazz have a new album out. Radio 2 are playing their new single.
It’s technically their third studio album, although only the second with the original singer, Clark Datchler. This time round they’re a two-piece, just Clark and bassist/producer Mike Nocito, returning without drummer Calvin Hayes. The story of JHJ is pretty short – a few singles, one album in 1987 and Clark leaves the band in 1988. What gives eh ?
Mike and Calvin carried on with Phil Thornalley on vocals (FACTS: he co-wrote Natalie Imbruglia‘s “Torn” and was in The Cure for a bit) for the album “Tall Stories“, released in 1991. This was not a success. And not very much has happened since then except a couple of appearances at worrying nostalgiathon festival Rewind. Until now.
I ought to declare a history with Johnny Hates Jazz. I loved it first time ’round. A friend of mine at primary school was Clark Datchler’s second cousin* – this was the closest I had ever come to celebrity that I could understand. I saw them on Top of the Pops and then, when I was off sick from school, my Dad bought me the 7″ of “Heart of Gold” to cheer me up.
Before I started writing this I did a bit of extra research – this involved reacquainting myself with their original hits. Wow. Anti-war songs and ditties about prostitutes ? Who knew they were the real heirs to The Police ?
So what is it like ? Well, to me, the whole thing sounds like… music from the 80s. To my wife and our visiting friend it’s a bizarre, furrowed-brow-inducing A-ha/Russian disco mash-up. I guess this isn’t so surprising. For an act that last tasted really major success 25 years ago and hasn’t been able to replicate that since, you can understand why they’d try it again. And like the actual music from the 80s, it isn’t all bad.
There’s nothing very much better or worse in this than there is in lots of pop music adorning the playlists of any number of ‘tasteful’ national and local radio stations. Lead single ‘Magnetized’ is a bit-too-slow-to-be-eurodisco, stompy number washed all over with mellifluous keyboards. It really sets the tone. The production is super-clean and super-polished – there’s nothing out of place but also no real sense of dynamics or tension in any of the songs. For me, the most I can say is that it’s all pretty non-offensive. There are irritating keyboards-as-strings on “Man With No Name” and dreadful lyrics on “Nevermore”, and the only song that I can profess any real liking for is “Release You”, a pleasant ballad hiding away towards the end of side one. But it’s clear that there is a lot of songwriting craft and hard work gone into this album – it has been lovingly honed and revised and revisited countless times to try and produce something they can be proud of. And that does come through.
I guess if you like Dido you’ll get more out of this than I did. Best of luck to Clark and Mike – given their recent BBC endorsement maybe good times are here again, and you can’t begrudge them that.
*or something like that.