John Foxx and The Maths – Howl album review

1 06 2020

Howl is the 5th studio album from John Foxx and The Maths, and is released on Metamatic Records on July 24 2020.

Joining John Foxx, Benge and Hannah Peel on this album is former Ultravox guitarist Robin Simon, who first worked with Foxx on Systems of Romance in 1978.

My Ghost sets the scene – guitars and synth’s duelling for attention, and an uptempo glam-rock meets early Prince beat. Intriguing lyrics and heavily processed vocals add a layer of mystery to this addictive opening track, that has hints of post-punk in the end section, referencing Foxx’s Ultravox work as well as some of the his work on The Garden (my favourite John Foxx album).

“my ghost comes running at me,
like living smoke from a burning tree”

Howl was the first single from the album, initially available on Foxx’s bandcamp page and it was clear that this new material would appeal to fans of his earlier albums. Howl is so satisfying, perfectly titled (the guitars do ‘howl’) and a joy to listen to, with the mix of electronica and chopped up and wild lead / rhythm guitar work referencing late seventies Bowie.

There is no time to pause, as the psychedelia of Everything Is Happening At The Same Time may slow down the BPM’s slightly, but the thick wall of sound is still a powerful statement. Benge and Hannah Peel excel on this beautifully produced and arranged piece.

Tarzan And Jane Regained is a more lo-fi production, and a simpler arrangement initially, as the buzzsaw guitar layers build incrementally as it becomes one of the albums most memorable tracks. Each playback reveals further details within the production, as previously hidden synth and guitar lines rise to the surface.

The sound changes with the widescreen clarity of The Dance, a song that showcases some of the most inventive synth lines on Howl. The guitars are used more as washes rather tan lead or rhythm, and sit further down in the mix, rising to the forefront during the chorus, which is pure Siouxsie & The Banshees from the Ju Ju era.

The dark, wild and seedy streets and characters of 1970s New York are celebrated in New York Times, a song screaming out to be released as a single. New York Times contains one of Foxx’s most memorable choruses, topped off by a great vocal performance making this track so vital.

“What would it take, to remove all the hate”

The darkest track on Howl is Last Time I Saw You, which drips with disdain and despair, and references Soho’s Berwick Street in London.

“The first time I saw you, I had to look away”

Even though this is probably Foxx at his most musically obtuse, I find myself returning to this song more than any on Howl. It is the most interesting lyric on the album, and I have no idea to the meaning behind Last Time I Saw You, which makes it all the more intriguing.

Howl is an intense listening experience, made sweeter by the delicate grace of its final song, Strange Beauty. Reminding me of the fragility of The Cocteau Twins at times, with chorus driven guitars and some shiver-inducing original 80s electronica, all four band members shine on this career highlight. Foxx also delivers a lyric and vocal full of elegance and longing.

“And when it fades way, leaving me with just a trace of of strange beauty,
of strange beauty, stranger than anything I’ve ever known”

Strange Beauty is timeless, and as the synth solo’s make way to a slow fade, you wish it could go on for longer, which is the sign of a great song.

Howl is a rare beast – an album that works as a perfect headphone experience, as well as blasting loud from your speakers. The production does a superb job in enabling this rewarding listening experience.

This is the album I have wanted to hear from John Foxx for a long-time – taking his guitar-led past into the same room as the stark electronica he is renowned for.

This incarnation of John Foxx And The Maths seem to have hit a peak, with a formula that will hopefully lead to more new music in the future. I cannot wait to hear what Foxx / early Ultravox fans think of this album, as there is so much here to enjoy and excite.

John Foxx (vocals/guitars)
Benge (keyboards/percussion)
Robin Simon (guitars)
Hannah Peel (violin)

My Ghost
Howl
Everything Is happening At The Same Time
Tarzan And Jane Regained
The Dance
New York Times
Last Time I Saw You
Strange Beauty

Buy Howl on CD
Buy Howl on vinyl

Buy Ultravox – Systems Of Romance on white vinyl


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One response

8 06 2020
Gladok Andy Kevin

Very excited about this album,And hi to ROBIN who i think was a visitor to HALIFAX .. Great good luck to JOHN FOXX too ,,,a extraordinary and modest beautiful guy

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