tue 23/04/2024

Album: Tom Jones - Surrounded by Time | reviews, news & interviews

Album: Tom Jones - Surrounded by Time

Album: Tom Jones - Surrounded by Time

The man with the big voice looks age in the eye

The big book of funny familiar forgotten feelings

“I'm growing old,” laments Tom Jones as his 40th studio album draws to a close. Sir Tom is “growing dimmer in the eyes” and “drowsy in my chair”. These blunt observations are not sugared with the mordant humour that, say, Randy Newman or the late Leonard Cohen might apply to a bad case of codgerdom. The only apt listener response to the song "I'm Growing Old" is: “Well you're 80, I guess you are.”

Jones's days as a hip-swivelling knicker magnet are fast receding in time's rearview mirror. However, elsewhere on this album Jones does everything in his power to contradict the notion that he'll be ordering a stairlift soon. And that power remains considerable. While his vocal range may have slipped a little from tenor to baritone, Jones's voice remains extraordinary - in tone and power - as he lets fly on a diverse range of pop, gospel and Americana.

Producer Ethan Johns and Jones's son, Mark Woodward, are credited with the singer's transformation from Las Vegas granny bait to veteran hipster mixing it with Jack White, Robbie Williams et al. That team oversees Surrounded by Time, billed as a set whose dozen songs each reflect an aspect of Jones’s shapeshifting career.

Arrangements are sometimes thoroughly modern – brooding synths and low strings underpin the plaintive "I Won't Crumble With You if You Fall" by social activist Bernice Johnson Reagon and Michael Kiwanuka's "I Won't Lie". By contrast, "No Hole in My Head" – there to reflect Jones's singlemindedness – sounds distinctly 1960s with its electric sitar and pop thump. The Waterboys' "This is the Sea" is faithfully rendered as an anthemic crowd-pleaser while the gospel tune "Samson and Delilah" is cleverly updated. The only cover whose lyrics Jones seems to reinterpet is an early Cat Stevens tune, "Pop Star". Where Stevens sounded wary of shallow fame, Jones sounds like he is raring to gorge on the fruits - flying undies and all.

"Talking Reality Television Blues" – nodding to Jones's time as a judge on The Voice UK - is spoken over a bluesy riff borrowed from Radiohead. But its barbs at the corrupting perils of cheap telly seem old-school in the age of TikTok and Twitter. After the introspection of "I'm Growing Old", Jones finishes by laughing at the Grim Reaper with a defiant nine minutes of Terry Callier's "Lazarus Man".

Throughout, the octogenarian sounds like a singer still in the thick of the action. Of course, you can carp that Jones’s voice is an all-purpose showbiz instrument that he deploys with the same passion on the stoner nonsense of "The Windmills of Your Mind" as on the dark poetry of Dylan's "One More Cup of Coffee". Surrounded by Time, though, remains a sparky, likeable set - if you want grand artistic vision, buy a Scott Walker record instead.

Below: Watch the video for "Pop Star" by Tom Jones

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