Johnny Hates Jazz
It has been the year of returns. Agnetha Fältskog, formerly Abba’s golden girl, has just released a solo album of original material for the first time since 1987. Iggy and The Stooges gave us Ready to Die last month, only their second new release since 1973. Fleetwood Mac put out a four-track EP around the same time, containing their first original songs since 2003. In March, David Bowie broke his own 10-year silence to triumphantly return with The Next Day.
This month brings a first album from Van Dyke Parks for ages (reviewed opposite by John Robinson) and fresh material from Johnny Hates Jazz, who topped the UK charts in January 1988 with their album Turn Back the Clock, before sinking without trace. That release, which shifted more than 4m copies, eventually yielded four Top 20 singles from its 10 songs, although only diehard fans would remember anything more than the title track, Shattered Dreams and I Don’t Want To Be A Hero from its crop of slightly wimpy but eminently catchy synth-pop songs.
Twenty-five years later Johnny Hates Jazz, who refer to themselves as “the last electronic band to emerge in the 1980s”, return with the notional follow-up to their best-selling debut. The pedantic might argue otherwise.
Lead singer and songwriter Clark Datchler jumped ship at the height of the band’s fame to pursue a solo career, leaving his former cohorts to release Tall Stories in 1991, a pale and poorly received imitation of their first album. Sometimes breaking up is neither easy nor the right thing to do.
The band’s rebirth hinged on Datchler and bandmate Mike Nocito setting aside old sores and subsequently re-establishing their creative partnership more than 20 years after they had fallen out. Datchler has called Magnetized the true successor to Turn Back the Clock.
The album opens brightly, if lightly, with its title track and it’s clear that Datchler and Nocito haven’t lost their knack for writing and producing radio-friendly electronic pop. Certainly the song sounds like it draws a straight line from the 1980s to the present day.
The Road Not Taken slows matters down and provides a modern reimagining of Turn Back the Clock. It’s a soapy, remorseful ballad, which might also speak directly to the potentially gilded route the band’s frontman abandoned first time around: “And yet my greatest mistake, the road I chose to take, was to leave,” sings Datchler on one of Magnetized’s standout tracks.
Much of the rest of the album conforms to a prototypical non-confrontational template: there’s not much wrong with it, but there is little here to arrest you either. Worthy of note, however, are Release You, as well as the mid-tempo Goodbye Sweet Yesterday and the slushy finale Eternal.
In keeping with the 1980s gloss of their debut, there is plenty of production sheen on display here, even if the band’s trademark sharp suits and carefully maintained hairstyles have thankfully been consigned to history. If the style has not survived the passing years, the substance of their success – unchallenging but well screwed together songs – stills bubbles away relatively profitably.