The strictures of the Popular project give Cliff’s career a sort of cometary aspect: he shows up around the end of a decade just to check on how British pop is doing. But of course he rarely stopped having hits – look at the Everyhit stats and his late 70s comeback doesn’t seem like a revival so much as a realignment, helping an established hitmaker get his bearings back at a time of unusual turbulence in the pop market.
This feels like a comeback though, partly because it’s by some way the most artistically successful of his moves to stay up-to-date. The combination of reassuringly chuggy rock and synth gloss suits Cliff’s voice, gives him a freedom to use it and express himself which he makes the most of – the falsetto bursts and soulful shout-outs on “We Don’t Talk Anymore” sound like Cliff enjoying himself and his music, losing himself in it for once. There’s a slightly didactic tone about a lot of Cliff’s stuff – whether he’s trying to get us to have fun (“Congratulations”) or contemplate God, or indeed contemplate how remarkable Sir Clifford’s career is: national treasure he may be, but he doesn’t half like to let you know it. On “We Don’t Talk Anymore”, that sense of ulterior motive is absent and he sounds more relaxed than at almost any time since “Travellin’ Light”. For me, the trade-off for Cliff’s newfound gusto is that the performance lacks emotional bite: he sounds like he’s having too much fun to care whether or not he’s talking to whoever it might be. But so what? This is as solidly enjoyable a pop record as we’ll find.