[Reviewed by Peter Marks]
On a trip down to the mall back in 1985 I was in search of A-ha’s ‘Hunting High and Low’ on cassette. As it was an insanely popular title and out of stock, I settled on a different one… one which was to resonate throughout my life far beyond any expectations I could hope to have. There it sat, just behind the counter; the last copy and I had just enough money from my allowance to purchase it. $6.99, I remember that number vividly. A yellowing sticker on the side of the anti-theft casing which Foxx’s album was contained within. The moment the clerk handed me my copy is a moment forever burned in my mind, no amount of time can erase it. I unwrapped my prize and popped it into my walkman and thus began a lifelong appreciation for the works of this quiet man.
I had hoped that this album would include the song ‘Endlessly’ which has gotten my attention the previous year when MTV finally decided to play the clip but alas, ‘In Mysterious Ways’ was not to contain it… so I thought at first. Soon whatever complaints I had vanished much like the murky terrain which Foxx’s final 80s album contained. On here one could immerse themselves in brilliant pop songs like “Lose All Sense of Time”, “Enter the Angel” or “What Kind of Girl” while being transported to a realm of stunning beauty via some of the other tunes on here. I am, of course, speaking of masterpieces along the lines of “In Mysterious Ways”, “Morning Glory”, “This Side of Paradise” and “Stepping Softly”. This record was a mature one, a stately meditation on love and about the last thing someone in seventh grade would take an interest in.
And yet I did. Slowly and deliberately this release opened up to me and revealed a hidden world of powerful dynamics. The emotions on here are unabashedly romantic, so it’s hardly surprising that my classmates had no use for it. In the age of metal being king among the youth, who had time to investigate material which didn’t immediately deliver the hooks and riffs… well some did. There were others who enjoyed this one as much as I did but sadly, I lost touch with most of them years ago. John laid it all on the line, whoever this woman was he loved had a remarkable influence not only on his words but on his design aesthetic. If you’d have told me I’d be entangled within a land such as this before I bought ‘In Mysterious Ways’ I would have laughed. Never before had I heard and seen the elements of songwriting and graphics integrated so flawlessly.
Being young and impressionable, I regretfully gave into the constant hounding those around me gave for liking this. I set ‘In Mysterious Ways’ down towards the end of the 1980s, opting for more accessible things like ‘Floodland’ or ‘The House of Dolls’. All throughout the 90s, John and I didn’t speak. I actually began to forget about him completely, something which he didn’t deserve but wholly expected. Go listen to his album ‘The Quiet Man’ for further illumination on this topic.
I didn’t pick ‘In Mysterious Ways’ back up again until 2008 when it was re-issued as a double cd. Everything came rushing back instantly. The blaze of a morning glory, the wonder of walking through the gardens in early June; she was still there even after all these years, that spectral mistress who served as a muse for Foxx during that time. Included were b-sides I hadn’t had access to in the day, also included from his own personal vaults was a song which will endure beyond the end of time: “Spin Away”. I have no idea how many others he has lying in wait but even though ‘In Mysterious Ways’ is continually overlooked in his discography it isn’t complete yet. It’s humbling to imagine that perhaps this record will never be finished. Only abandoned.
Additional mixes from this time as well as radio sessions have materialized, Foxx I’m told doesn’t discuss this period much if at all. So often misunderstood and so very very unjustly ignored, ‘In Mysterious Ways’ is a testament to the unending need we all have for completion. The gorgeous, aching beauty of what is contained herein leaves me longing even more now than it ever did then. I’m in the minority enjoying his fourth solo album, I know but I am hopeful that someday what he did will be appreciated for what it is: love in all of it’s many splendid facets. Be content noble heart, it seems to say. Your years of loneliness are at an end. It all began with so much promise. John punctuated the ending of this time by disappearing from music and living in London “like a ghost”.
Be thankful for what you have.