Dream Into Action, by Howard Jones
When I was a teenager, I found a tape cassette of this album in a thrift store near where I lived and found it to be an enjoyable listen. It’s been a while since I listened to the album and I was reminded of its existence (and greatness) by a recent video from the Professor of Rock, though I thought it would be good to listen to this album again, and perhaps add Howard Jones’ classic studio albums to my list of material to listen to as part of a career retrospective. Whether or not I ever get around to that larger project, this album is itself fourteen songs long, and a significant amount of them became hits in the UK, United States, and other countries, including songs that I have talked about here in some detail like “Things Can Only Get Better” and “No One Is To Blame,” a remixed version of the latter which became a top 5 hit in the United States in 1986. Is this album good listened to it nearly 40 years after it was released in 1985? Let’s see.
The album begins with “Things Can Only Get Better,” an early single from the album that was a smash song, which expresses a certain sense of optimism in the face of difficulty. “Life In One Day” reflects a wise determination to live life gradually rather than be in an impatient hurry, and it was a moderate hit in many places. “Dream Into Action,” the title track, discusses the way that people engage in great effort to live out their dreams and plans and turn them into reality. “No One Is To Blame” provides a sober and reflective view of the tension between human longing and its often painful and unpleasant consequences. “Look Mama” is a somewhat resentful song about dealing with overprotective parents and reflects the limits of Jones’ wisdom in dealing with previous generations and accumulated wisdom. “Assault And Battery” is a rather ominous reflection on violence and suffering, a beautiful and dark album track with a children’s choir. “Automaton” reflects on the relationship between man and machine and is another solid album track. “Is There A Difference” demonstrates once again Howard Jones’ hostility to tradition and his view that those who follow the ways of the past do so without reflection or consciousness, misdiagnosing the reasons for the suffering he abhors. “Elegy” is a melancholy and reflective song that reflects a strong sense of world-weariness. “Specialty” is a message song about the uniqueness and specialness of others, most likely the intended audience of the songs. “Why Look For The Key” is a story song that reflects on the resentment and unhappiness of a young man who seems compelled to seek to understand his unhappiness. “Hunger For The Flesh” is a rather melancholy and gloomy song about human longing and desire. “Bounce Right Back” is a quirky and upbeat story song about a strange encounter with someone seeking to dispense of wisdom. The album then ends with “Like To Get To Know You Well,” a successful single and soundtrack pop song about the desire to get to know someone one is becoming attracted to.
Ultimately, Dream Into Action remains a worthwhile album to listen to and a New Wave classic decades after its release. Tonally, it has a strong U-shaped melodramatic mood with its best and most upbeat songs at the beginning and end and moody but still excellent album tracks in the middle. If there is one area in which Howard Jones falls short it is in the mood of resentment that is behind his lyrics in many of the songs. While Jones accurately captures the mood of wistful longing that has long characterized Generation X music–something that one can find in music like John Mayer’s “Waiting On The World To Change,” which has a similar mood to much that can be found here–he falls short when it comes to understanding the past and assigning blame for why the world is the messed up place he found it. Let us hope with some time that Jones himself has come to better understand his complex inheritance and come to some insight of how it is that the young are quick to blame those who are older for what is wrong with the world, not realizing that what is wrong has been wrong for a long time and is wrong inside all of us, something each generation seems to have to learn on its own.