After three decades in the wilderness, John Howard returns with a set of new songs. This is perhaps only a taste of what's to come, but the taste is intoxicating. Most of the songs have the familiar melodramatic tone, half-swooning, half-troubled. There are occasional diversions like the jaunty cabaret of What A Carry On, quintessentially British, as perhaps could be said of John, except his songs often have a widescreen American grandeur. Maintaining The Anger and Early Closing Days suggest cruise ship cabaret, which is a touch surprising, but the songs themselves are effective. The triumphs of the album are certainly the dramatic ballads. The album opens with the brief but beautiful The Luxury Of Rain, concluding with the lines, 'Today I walked past your window just to ignore you/But you weren't in'. You can almost hear the pained laugh. Such A Drag is as the title suggests, about cross-dressing, and the underlying sadness always awaiting the high-octane drag queen. Expect The Unexpected combines elegance and pain to moving effect. Alot of the songs are about frustration of one kind or another, and disappointment, something John himself can surely understand. The title track searches desperately for an answer to a relationship in freefall, as he reports, 'Boredom grows into a sense of hatred'. In his heart the singer knows the situation is doomed. The harpsichord-driven Death And The Bridesmaid Boy is a highlight, with its tale of a boy/man who fails to get the attention he so craves, and in a combination of despair and petulance, throws himself off a building. However, the album does end on an upnote with the glam anthem, Dear Glitterheart, where John gets to revisit his youth. Overall the tone is downbeat, but John's dynamic melodies always ensure that the sad songs are never too depressing. The album project between John Howard and Robert Cochrane can be deemed a real success. The general aura is that of an introspective West End musical (if such a thing actually existed, and if West End musicals were actually any good). The fact that Howard is older now lends the melancholy reflection a more authentic ring, a genuine depth. Experience colours the sadness. And the words seem even more heartfelt, despite the fact that John didn't actually write them. This is the gift of a true songwriter. With another album due, Howard fans can now look forward to even more new songs, this time completely self-penned. Until then, wile away the dark hours with this.