Ladies and gentlemen, Tom Jones is back. And though it may seem an incredulous thing to suggest of a singer who has spent the better part of five decades making music, '24 Hours', his new album, might just be his best yet. It is certainly his most fully realised, and also his most intimate by far. There are reasons for this: the man who is arguably the best interpreter of any song he chooses to sing irrespective of genre has now, at last, turned songwriter. For the first time in his career, Tom has had a major hand in writing most of the songs collected here.
The genesis of '24 Hours' began, as perhaps all great journeys should, in a nightclub after dark. This one was in Dublin, it was long gone midnight, and Tom was drinking with his friend, Bono.
Tom Jones is that very rarest of things, a living legend. In that popular Hollywood parlour game, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, it is suggested that the square-jawed actor can be linked to practically anyone in the film business in just six neat moves, such was his workrate and popularity. With Tom, you could shave off at least five degrees, because here is someone who has befriended, collaborated and hung out with practically every key character in showbiz over the past 50 years. Who else do you know can be so effortlessly linked with Elvis Presley, various Rat Packers, Van Morrison, Robbie Williams and the Queen? Not to mention seminal music maestros Portishead, songwriter extraordinaire Burt Bacharach and, even the fictitious icon that is James Bond? Has there ever been a more malleable entertainer, someone who can play Vegas one moment and Wembley the next? Who can appeal to young and old, black and white, cool and cutting edge alike? Tom Jones was one of the great performers of the 20th century. He is now one of the great performers of the 21st.
His has been a career that has never peaked only to wane, but one that has rather continually moved forwards and climbed upwards. After sustaining himself with a string of classic hits throughout the 60s, 70s and 80s, Tom effectively reinvented himself in 1999 with his 'Reload' album, in which he duetted on new songs with a succession of modern-day artists (The Cardigans, Mousse T, Catatonia's Cerys Matthews, Manic Street Preachers' James Dean Bradfield, Stereophonics). It became one of the biggest hits of his career, but not necessarily quite the curveball many considered it to be.
That someone of his august years could ring in with such a late-coming classic as this is testament to what Tom has always been about, and always will be: the power of the song, the power of The Voice. In so many ways, he is the godfather of modern soul, a man without whom the likes of Amy Winehouse and Mark Ronson, Joss Stone and Duffy would never have existed.
At the age of 68, and a recently anointed knight of the realm, Sir Tom Jones is still firing on all cylinders, still a huge music fan, still a genuinely great artist. '24 Hours' is about to send him back up to the top of the charts, and into the nation's arenas and hearts. Or, in his own more humble words, "I'm just opening up shop again. Let's see who comes in through the door. "