John Howard and the Night Mail offers more lush, sophisticated chamber pop from the unlikeliest of comeback artists.
Since his early 21st century rediscovery, British singer-songwriter John Howard has become profoundly prolific, releasing nearly an album a year. Not a bad run for an artist who, prior to 2005's The Dangerous Hours, had only one album proper, 1975's chamber pop masterpiece Kid in a Big World, to his name. But with that album's rediscovery, the floodgates were opened and compilations of archival recordings began to appear alongside a torrent of new releases, all steeped in richly observed singer-songwriter material unfairly ignored upon initial release.
Building on an already established stylistic template, John Howard and the Night Mail adheres largely to the aesthetics spelled out on Kid. Theatrical, often Bowie-esque vocals and prominent piano lines dominate the album, calling to mind the pre-punk golden age of slightly left-of-center singer-songwriters. Proving himself to have lost none of the lyrical wit for which he was celebrated on Kid, Howard's songs are densely structured first-person narratives that eschew standard pop song material in favor of more nuanced, often esoteric observations.
For those who like their pop on the more sophisticated end of the spectrum, John Howard continues to prove himself an unfairly neglected genius of the genre who, some forty years later, is finally getting the chance to share what we all missed out on in the intervening years. John Howard and the Night Mail is nothing short of a triumph.