Tom Jones gets back to basics on "24 Hours"

Fri Oct 17, 2008 9:58pm EDT
 
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By Jeff Vrabel

CHICAGO (Billboard) - Pop star Tom Jones' new album is the 68-year-old's first U.S. release in 15 years and, practically speaking, his American comeback -- in the studio, anyway; he still performs more than 200 shows a year.

"I've been thinking about this album for a long time now," Jones says of "24 Hours," due November 25 on S-Curve Records. "I've had success worldwide, but with albums that were never released in America." (His last album, 2000's rock-covers collection "Reload," moved 5 million copies in Europe, but labels found its roster of British-leaning duet partners off-putting, so it never came out stateside.)

Unlike artists like Johnny Cash and Neil Diamond, Jones isn't using the comeback pedestal to deliver a stark, acoustic, depth-of-the-soul thing; this is a characteristically splashy, bombastic, large-sounding platter of future-retro swagger in the vein of the Amy Winehouse-led throwback-soul movement. (It was produced by British duo Future Cut, which has been behind recent tracks by Kate Nash, Lily Allen and Estelle.)

Witness these couplets from "Sugar Daddy," a vaguely dirty come-on at the record's center: "I been singing this song before you were born"; "I've got male intuition/I've got sexual ambition"; "You don't send a boy to do a man's job." The best part: The Welsh singer got U2's Bono and the Edge to write that for him after a night of drinking in a Dublin pub.

In Jones' mind, the key to the recording was keeping sharp watch on the balance among his progressive ambitions, the music's retro feel and the substantial weight of his reputation, and he says records like Winehouse's gave him confidence that his plan was solid.

"It was reassuring," he says. "When ("Back to Black") came out, I thought, 'It can be done. People do want it.' It confirmed what we were doing."

SETTING THE RULES

What he was doing was setting a series of ground rules, chief among them that the record wouldn't be a simple nostalgia trip. He also took a greater role in defining the sound and, for the first time in decades, in the songwriting.   Continued...

 
<p>Singer Tom Jones performs at the Grammy Foundation's Starry Night gala honoring Sir George Martin in Los Angeles, California July 12, 2008. REUTERS/Fred Prouser</p>