THANKS to the commercial and especially creative success of Johnny Cash's final recording sessions with Rick Rubin, veteran artists no longer need be confined to trotting out all the 30 or 40-year-old hits or releasing insipid covers of "standards" in the twilight of their careers. Instead, they have been given permission to experiment and explore – not necessarily in order to make a self-consciously hip record to appeal to "the kids" but to play to their strengths and make a credible contribution to their back catalogue. Despite some resistance from a fanbase that just wants to bellow along to Sweet Caroline, Neil Diamond has produced two albums of confessional integrity in recent years, while, in the UK, Tony Christie has just released a dignified collection of urban melancholia which could not be further from the cheap cabaret of Amarillo.
Tom Jones has no particular need for any such career resurrection. He has done his fair share of collaborating with the young singers of the day in the last decade and is as popular an entertainer as he has ever been. He could happily continue in this semi-parodic vein until his leathery skin cracks for good or he is suffocated under a canopy of ladies' undergarments.
But it has not escaped his notice that a bunch of young upstarts – namely, Amy Winehouse, Mark Ronson, Duffy and The Last Shadow Puppets – have taken to playing him at his own game, releasing albums which pastiche the big string- and brass-soaked soul productions of the 1960s. The time is clearly right for Jones to reclaim his musical roots.
24 Hours is deemed to be such an effective rebirth that it is his first album release in the US in 15 years. With Lily Allen's production team Future Cut at the helm, Jones has returned to songwriting. The results are not quite as soul-baring as promised on the tin but at least he doesn't sound like he is trying so hard this time around.
His opening cover of Tommy James and the Shondells' I'm Alive is delivered with full-blooded relish. The panoramic backing of horns, strings and garagey guitar is a retooled, though self-conscious throwback to his virile 1960s recordings – you know, the ones accompanied by his, ahem, thrusting dance moves.
The single If He Should Ever Leave You is a more organic revisiting of this style, featuring a stronger tune, a slightly patronising lyric from the "little girl, I can protect you" school which often prevailed in the Sixties, and nice attention to detail, such as the sighing backdraft of strings at the end.
Jones interprets the romantic escapism of We Got Love with a softer, lighter and consequently more youthful-sounding vocal and also plays it nice and easy with the northern soul groove of Feels Like Music, but is back with the apoplectic holler on Give A Little Love, played out like a battle between his larynx and the perky horns.
One suspects, however, that Jones is most proud of the ballads. He shows some rare vulnerability on The Road, a melancholy Bacharach-style confessional directed at his long-suffering wife. Seasons is his big, made-it- through-the-rain soul ballad, though he overcooks it a little, and it's really not as good a song as its creator thinks it is. The demonstrative melodrama of Never ("never gonna give you up, running through my blood") is more suited to Jones' overwrought style.
He comes unstuck on the title track, intoning solemnly as the voice of a death row prisoner staring mortality in the face. Unfortunately, he has forgotten to include a tune, so all that gravity is wasted.
The Hitter carries the whiff of a vanity cover. Jones makes the mistake of being a tad portentous in his interpretation of Bruce Springsteen's tale of a broken boxer, but it is hard to grudge him his enjoyment of the interpretation, which is pure Otis Redding pastiche.
Fans of the cheesier Jones will enjoy the loungey bossa nova of In Style And Rhythm – "so when you check someone out… don't concentrate on the lips, just keep your eyes on the hips, and if there's plenty of swing, and sure enough there is zing, you gotta do it in style and rhythm" he instructs with alacrity.
While it is actually quite sweet that an old lothario hasn't forgotten how to party, Jones does let his quality control slide unforgivably at one point.
Sugar Daddy, co-written with Bono and The Edge after a night of carousing in the pub, is an embarrassing misfire in the cold light of morning, being nothing more than a leering parody of Jones' tired image as medallion-wearing seducer. If the cringeworthy line "holy schmoly… you don't send a boy to do a man's job" doesn't undo the good work put in elsewhere on 24 Hours, it is only because the well-loved Jones has little to lose at this stage in his career. Whether he has made any great gains with 24 Hours is another matter. By Fiona Shepherd 24 HOURS *** The Scotsman