John Howard

The Dangerous Hours

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John Howard constitutes one of the most remarkable comebacks in pop history. After releasing an ill-fated debut called Kid in a Big World in 1975, Howard suffered from one of the most extreme of examples of Murphy's Law in record company history: not only did everything that could go wrong did, he couldn't get either of his follow-ups to that LP released, and he slowly faded into obscurity by the early '80s. Then, nearly 30 years after the original release of the album, RPM reissued Kid in a Big World in 2003, and it became a sensation among hardcore pop record collectors, prompting not only the release of those two forgotten albums -- Technicolour Biography was the rejected demos for the second album, Can You Hear Me OK? was the fully produced second album that never saw the light of day -- but the first new album he had recorded in three decades. That new album, entitled The Dangerous Hours, is both of a piece with his '70s work and a departure from it. As Howard himself notes in its liner notes, he usually writes his own lyrics, but with The Dangerous Hours, he sets poems written by Robert Cochrane to music. Howard admits that this was a challenge, but it's a testament to his strength as a composer that the resulting 14 songs do not sound awkward or ill-conceived. All of the hallmarks of his '70s work -- big, sweeping, cinematic choruses, lush, sighing melodies, music that is once dramatic and intimate -- are present, and Cochrane's words (which do occasionally contain a few lines by Howard) flow like Howard's own. Musically, this is closest to Technicolour Biography -- it's spare and simple, just Howard and his piano, occasionally embellished with a synthesizer and overdubbed vocals -- and it's just as effective as that previous album, a perfect soundtrack for either late-night introspection or a contemplative Sunday morning. The best thing about The Dangerous Hours isn't that it comfortably fits alongside Howard's forgotten gems of the '70s, it's that it proves that his skills as a craftsman are untarnished after all these years. Here's to hoping that this album doesn't represent the culmination of his comeback, but the beginning of a new productive phase in his career.

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