In the past few years, many artists have taken to the road to perform full albums front-to-back. Howard Jones is going one better. Friday at Showcase Live in Foxborough, the affable synth-popster will perform two whole albums, his mid-’80s classics “Human’s Lib” and “Dream Into Action” in their entirety.
“That’s right, I always have to be one up,” says the chipper Brit with a laugh.
Both albums spawned a clutch of infectious pop hits including “No One Is to Blame,” “Things Can Only Get Better,” and “What Is Love?” and Jones is enjoying looking back.
He’s also looking forward to his 30th anniversary next year as well and is at work on a potential trilogy of new albums — one acoustic, one “very” electronic, and one instrumental. “Because it’s my 30th anniversary I thought I should do something that really expresses the three strands of what I’ve done. But even within that I’ve got to think about how do I say things in a way that’s going to be meaningful to people?” We caught up with Jones by phone from an Austin, Texas, tour stop.
Q. Is the lesson of doing two albums back-to-back that records in the ’80s weren’t very long?
A. The first set is an hour-and-a-half, and that’s just “Dream Into Action” so, it’s quite a long night, but people really love it. They get really immersed in the whole journey.
Q. Confess though, is there at least one song on both of those records that you wouldn’t be sad to skip?
A. (Laughs.) There were definitely a few tracks that I was thinking, “Oh no, I’ve got to do this.” However, I’ve learned to love them. (Laughs.)
Q. As you revisit these songs do you feel charitable toward your younger songwriting self?
A. Yes. It’s very much like reading a diary of yourself 30 years ago and remembering how you felt and thought. It’s fascinating. It’s also amazing that you can have things pointed out to you about your own songs that you didn’t think about, for example “Hide and Seek” on “Human’s Lib.” The chorus is “hope you find it in everything.” And this guy said to me, “I took it to mean, ‘hope, you find it in everything.’ ” And I had never ever thought about it like that! It’s amazing isn’t it? It’s like finding a little jewel in an old coat.
Q. So he put a comma where you didn’t intend one?
A. Exactly. And in the last few shows, I’ve actually phrased it differently. Not every time but on some, “hope (pause) you find it in everything.”
Q. From “Human’s Lib” in 1984 to your most recent, more ruminative release “Ordinary Heroes” from 2009, there is a thread of optimism in your music. To what do you attribute that?
A. As I’ve gotten older I’ve thought about that quite a lot. I think it’s because I know cynicism well within myself. And I so much don’t want to be a cynic, and I so much don’t want to be a negative person, but I see it there in me like it is in everyone, and I want to fight it. And my way of fighting it is by writing songs that do that. I never would’ve thought that in the early days. If you just write positive songs, just because you feel good that day it won’t carry. But if it’s borne out of an inner battle I think that people will not just think it’s some sort of flippant, “Let’s be positive” vibe and it will go further.
Q. You have participated in several ’80s package shows and then you do your own tours. I’m imagining that that’s two distinct audiences and you prefer headlining.
A. Actually, the ’80s shows are fantastic fun to do because you have a really big crowd and it’s really good fun. (Laughs.) But the only thing is, artistically, you’re just playing five or six hits, and you feel a little bit like, “There’s so much more to me than this.” But I really don’t want to be a snob about those gigs because people absolutely love them and it’s great to see people enjoying themselves with all the hits from the ’80s.
Q. What do you know now that you wish you knew in the ’80s?
A. I think what I know now is that what people think of as being a success — which is often about big numbers and big venues and on the radio all the time — isn’t real success. The real success is being able to communicate ideas to people through the music and that can be on a very small scale but leave a very big impression.