By Bill Zaferos   Published Jan 22, 2007 at 5:26 AM

Howard Jones refuses to be pinned down as merely an ‘80s artist. He’s also not just an electronic artist, having released an acoustic album, “Revolution of the Heart” and toured with a semi-acoustic band.

But he’s not an admirer of ‘50s and ‘60s rock.

Jones, whose hits include “New Song” and “What is Love,” insists that rock music has fallen into a predictable pattern which he has been trying to break for decades.

“I think the synthesizer gave rock a kick in the ass,” he said. “Rock started out as a great alternative but became the status quo. It seems to be locked in the ‘50s and ‘60s image of how rock music should be. The great thing about the ‘80s is that people had a go at breaking that up. It’s a tragedy that people should be looking back and not trying to innovate. It’s so important for our culture to innovate. It’s dangerous when culture only looks back.

“As a young man I wanted to present my music in a way they never had seen before, as a one-man electronic band with TV screens and performance art, anything to be different, and that should be the spirit of rock and roll. It’s a shame. Young people are not encouraged and given the confidence to be new and innovative.”

Jones, who was the popular face of the ‘80s synthesizer-based sound -- having arrived on the scene in the wake of The Human League, Depeche Mode and Cabaret Voltaire -- said that although there are still electronic elements to his music, it has evolved over the years with new technology and his willingness to use acoustic arrangements of his material.

“I like to do lots of different things,” he said. “If you do the same thing for 25 years it gets stale. I established a precedent fairly early on when I would do acoustic solo pieces in the middle of my electronic set.

“The last thing I did in the UK was full-on electronic. That’s still ongoing. But I can’t always afford to take the whole band out. It’s a lot of gear. It’s a question of waiting for the right opportunity. But then we go out and play the acoustic shows and that keeps me satisfied performing. It’s about being practical about the music.”

Jones, accompanied by guitarist Robin Boult, will bring his eclectic mix of electronic and acoustic music to a smoke-free show at Shank Hall on January 24. It will be Jones’ first performance in Milwaukee in 20 years.

But don’t just expect an ‘80s revival from Jones. He’s too busy making his music relevant to the moment.

“I view myself as someone who started recording music in then 1980s,” he said. “I was born in the ‘50s and I came to the public’s attention in the ‘80s but that’s as far as it goes. I’m an artist of the now. When you perform you’re very much an artist of the now, not a relic from the past. The past is long gone and I have no interest in talking about it. I’m looking at the future.  I don’t think artists should ever trade on the past. It’s how good are you now?”

Look for Jones to play a little of everything in what he says will be an intimate show, but he also promised that there would be new music in his set, some of which hasn’t been recorded. Breaking in new music in front an audience, he said, is the best way to do it.

A devotee of new music technology, Jones said his hits would sound different if they had been recorded today. The advent of digital editing and sequencing has changed everything, he said.

That use of technology is what will propel his next album.

“The next album is to really use the advances in technology to collaborate with musicians on the other side of the world or the country in real time, with the bass player in New York and you in your studio in Somerset (England),” he said. “People like to record in their own environment, and that’s the next step for me, to use technology in that way.”

But for all the technology, look for Jones to simply be himself during the show.

“As you get older you get less self conscious,” he said. “My holy grail is to be completely myself playing live. I’m just Howard. That’s what I try to be on stage.”