Wednesday, 3 July 2019

The Psychedelic Furs ‎– Mirror Moves (1984)

Style: Alternative Rock, New Wave
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: CBS, Columbia, Epic, Sony, Legacy

Tracklist:
1.   The Ghost In You
2.   Here Comes Cowboys
3.   Heaven
4.   Heartbeat
5.   My Time
6.   Like A Stranger
7.   Alice's House
8.   Only A Game
9.   High Wire Days

Credits:
Bass – Tim Butler
Drums, Percussion – Keith Forsey, Tommy Price
Guitar – John Ashton
Saxophone – Mars Williams
Vocals, Lyrics By – Richard Butler
Written-By – Ashton, R. Butler, T. Butler
Arranged By – The Psychedelic Furs
Producer – Keith Forsey

Having made tentative inroads toward a wider American audience with Forever Now, the Psychedelic Furs' profile-raising and partial transformation continued with Mirror Moves. Very much a product of its mid-'80s time -- Keith Forsey produced, his drum machine providing the beats while synths played an even more prominent role than before -- it may not be the classic sound of the band but it is an often rewarding and inspiring listen. It didn't hurt that some of the band's best songs made an appearance here, either. Both "The Ghost in You" and "Heaven" balanced off a warm sound that managed to be radio-friendly on the one hand -- John Ashton's guitar mixed in surprisingly well with the fine if often conventional keyboard arrangements -- and surprisingly barbed on the other. Richard Butler's lyrics were some of his slyest and sharpest, a tone maintained throughout the album, while his one of a kind speak/sing clipped rasp kept things from being too lost even at the album's least inspired. Unlike the following Midnight to Midnight album, however -- where everything the Furs had going for them turned into a screeching halt -- Mirror Moves holds up fairly consistently. "Here Come Cowboys," with its combination guitar/string chug (or so it sounds!) and a brilliant slow descending chorus, and the driving, nervous piano and massed vocals on "Alice's House" are two particular winners. The secret highlight of the album is also its closer -- "Highwire Days," as brilliant a meditation on '80s-era political paranoia and fears as was done at the time. Butler's imagery is to the point without moralizing or dumbing down, while the tense arrangement suggests a more synth-based equivalent to the Chameleons, at once scaled for epic heights and almost uncomfortably close. 
Ned Raggett / AllMusic

The Psychedelic Furs ‎– Forever Now (1982)

Alternative Rock, New Wave, Post-Punk
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Columbia, CBS, Legacy, Sony Music, Epic

Tracklist:
01.   President Gas
02.   Love My Way
03.   Run And Run
04.   Merry-Go-Round
05.   Sleep Comes Down
06.   Forever Now
07.   Danger
08.   You & I
09.   Goodbye
10.   No Easy Street

Credits:
Bass – Tim Butler
Cello – Ann Sheldon
Drums, Percussion – Vince Ely
Guitar – John Ashton
Horns – Donn Adams, Gary Windo
Vocals – Richard Butler
Backing Vocals – Howard Kaylan, Mark Volman
Producer – Todd Rundgren

Last Saturday night, as I was perusing the racks at Repo Record, I had a little trade-in value and was looking for the right titles to pick up. I was hovering in the “P” section in search of some Prince, when I noticed the full set of three CBS Legacy DLX RMs of the first three albums by the Psychedelic Furs. One of these was going home with me, but which one?  I had the early US CBS issues of “The Psychedelic Furs” and “Talk Talk Talk.” the US CD/LP of the debut was long compromised by the removal of the song “Blacks/Radio” [which I have never heard!] and the substitution of two non-LP singles, “Susan’s Strange” and “Soap Commercial.” The DLX RM had those two added as bonus tracks, so I would only really be hearing “Blacks/Radio” and the cover B-side of “Mack The Knife” and a demo of “Flowers.” “Talk Talk Talk” was released intact, back in the day, and the bonus tracks there were the 7″ of “Mr. Jones” and two demos. In the end, I opted for the “Forever Now” reissue. 
As strange as it may seem for someone who was all over the first two Psychedelic Furs albums on the week of US release, I have never owned or even heard “Forever Now,” if you can believe that! I can’t give a good reason why, either. I loved the hit single from it that got a ton of MTV airplay. So here is another classic period New Wave album that I was finally giving a spin over 30 years later. Last week we quickly moved on from “Prince Charming.” Will the Psychedelic Furs fare better? 
The title track intro featured phased guitars with newly winsome synth lines treading where this band had never been before. Flo + Eddie’s patented harmonies inject the shadows with a little sunshine for a change. The tubular bell solo on the middle eight vied with the hi-hats for a unique sound before the “warm jet” churn of the guitars returned to the fold. Richard Butler said “stupid” here for what might be the last time in this band. There was more space for everything to have a moment in the spotlight in Rundgren’s more democratic staging of the album sound with the outro solo by John Ashton being  delightfully flanged and chorused. 
psychedelic furs - lovemywayUK7AThe marimba hook and queasy 2-note synth hook of “Love My Way” remains classic 33 years later. This is one of those perennial hits that never wore out its welcome. If you can believe it, the distinctive descending legato b-vox [“aaaaaaaaaah”] hook of Flo + Eddie was only added at the last minute when Volman and Kaylan listened to the playback and heard themselves missing! They suggested the addition to Rundgren and it was quickly hammered out and thus elevated the middle eight of this rightful hit single. 
The next track, “Goodbye,” featured a skanking bounce to the horn section. It almost attained an Oingo Boingo vibe! Richard Butler was finally as scornful here in his delivery as on the previous two albums. The relentless rhythm section echoed the train station that the song took place in effectively. I loved the eighth note morse code guitar and thrilling cellos in the intro to “Only You And I” before the rhythm section joined in. The chorus featured a great Butler lyric. 
“Knee jerk negativity never got me through.” – Richard Butler 
Ultimately it recalled a “Talk Talk Talk” cut, but would those ever have had strings or glockenspiel? Rundgren really fleshed out the band’s horizons here. His penchant for Beatleisms were an unexpected juxtaposition for this band. The psychedelic string freak out in the fadeout was a typically out of character treat. 
The detuned guitar hook of “Sleep Comes Down” hit swiftly in the intro and the eighth notes on the hi-hat created a delightful tension. The cellos in the middle eight went full tilt into Beatle-land before the song returned to its spartan, ascetic vibe. “President Gas” was a dark, cynical classic that was immediately familiar from the times I’ve seen The Furs live over the years. Only twice, actually, but this song was played at each show; 20+ years apart! We actually needed more songs like this during the Reagan era. The acoustic middle eight was a shock as I was used to the live renditions I’d heard over the years. Rundgren sure kept the mix here moving and consistently intriguing. 
psychedelic furs - dangerUK7A“Danger” was an absolutely unique wheezing, cacophonous track complete with incongruous soul horn injections. It was brief and unsettling in keeping with the song’s title but it was remixed for a UK  7″ [2:43] by Ed Thacker. I liked Thacker’s work with Icehouse, so maybe this was a worthwhile single to get? The greasy sax solo by Gary Windo came completely out of left field and I love how it morphed into skronk by the end of its succinct two bar lifespan. 
“No Easy Street” played like a minor key cousin of “Love My Way.” Just try singing the lyrics to that song along; the meter is identical. This time Rundgren carried the impressionistic sax solo. Love how Butler carries the “e” in “eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeasy street” here. 
The motorik drum rhythms of the closer [on the original album] “Yes I Do [Merry-Go-Round]” got right down to business as the intro used white noise pad hits to enhance the rhythms. The cello sawing away over the drums presaged Echo + The Bunnymen’s “Never Stop” of the following year. Big time to these ears, though the Bunnymen track is the only one that attained the status of classic. Butler’s delivery on the verse sounds as if he can barely be bothered to breathe while he was singing, so breathless was he by the end of each couplet. This ended the classic album but the bonus tracks were more of a scattershot afterthought than something approaching canon. 
“Aeroplane” featured drum machines and what sounded like everything but the kitchen sink contribute to the cacophonous vibe on that number. I still can’t discern exactly what I was hearing. Butler’s vocal delivery recalled the debut in the repetitive construction of the verses. “I Don’t Want To Be Your Shadow” presaged the lighter fare to come on “Mirror Moves.” The live cuts showcased the differences in the live arrangements necessitated with no cello players accompanying them on tour. 
Thirty three years later, this album sounds pretty sweet and slots effortlessly into the four album arc from 1980-1984. The songs effect the ideal balance of pop songcraft with the dark underbelly that they first brought to the table in 1980. Todd Rundgren’s production was vibrant and surprising, and it allowed unexpected glimpses at the group’s original dark sound that they were evolving away from as they got more skilled. This being Rundgren, the Beatleesque string touches were both unexpected and yet logical in retrospect.  The sound palette allowed for synthesis to creep further under the door than ever before while there being no danger of incipient chilliness. This was a warm, woody sound that served the songs very well. I also liked the album that came after this one very much. It might not be as consistent as this, but the hight points sit very high indeed in my personal canon. They lost me at “Midnight To Midnight,” however. 
Post-Punk Monk

The Psychedelic Furs ‎– Talk Talk Talk (1981)

Style: New Wave
Format: CD, Vinyl
Label: Columbia, Legacy, Epic/Sony, CBS

Tracklist:
01.   Dumb Waiters
02.   Pretty In Pink
03.   I Wanna Sleep With You
04.   No Tears
05.   Mr. Jones
06.   Into You Like A Train
07.   It Goes On
08.   So Run Down
09.   All Of This And Nothing
10.   She Is Mine

Credits:
Bass – Tim Butler
Drums, Percussion – Vince Ely
Guitar – John Ashton, Roger Morris
Horns, Keyboards – Duncan Kilburn
Vocals – Butler
Written-By – Psychedelic Furs
Producer – Steve Lillywhite

Released the day after singer Butler Rep's (now reverting to his given name, Richard Butler) 25th birthday, The Furs’ sophomore effort lays waste to the old “sophomore jinx” albatross. The final album with the original sextet, Talk Talk Talk would arguably signal the end of the fuller sound generated by departing second guitarist Roger Morris and, more importantly, sax player Duncan Kilburn, whose sinewy fills were essential to the band’s original sound. The album also found the band moving in a more commercial direction, jettisoning the moody, dark, almost gothy overtones of debut album tracks like ‘Sister Europe’ and ‘Imitation of Christ’ for more accessible singles like the evergreen ‘Pretty In Pink’ and the aggressive adrenaline rush of ‘Mr. Jones’. 
Fans filled notebooks with interpretations of Butler’s enigmatic lyrics, which contained some of his best couplets (“The one who insists he was first in the line/Is the last to remember her name”; “You didn't leave me anything/That I can understand/Now I'm left with all of this/A room full of your trash”; “You have to be crazy to stay in this place/You just have to laugh at it all”), and yet buried the album title inside one of the album’s most forgettable tracks! The mysterious Caroline even returns from the debut’s ‘India’ for all the world to fall in love with! At least he jettisoned the cloying namedropping (Frank Sinatra, Sophia Loren, Charles Aznavour, Brigitte Bardot) and pilfering childhood favourites (The Supremes’ ‘Baby Love’, Small Faces ‘Sha La La’, Al Jolson). 
Still, there are musical breadcrumbs from the debut that tie the albums together (‘Into You Like A Train’ is essentially a rewrite of ‘Pulse’, while opener ‘Dumb Waiters’ continues the Butler rap so prevalent on the earlier album. But it’s the nostalgic, sentimentalism of ‘All of This and Nothing’ and ‘She Is Mine’ that assure not a dry eye in the house will be returning the record to its sleeve. Butler may come across as a brash tosser with an overactive Bowie fixation, but it’s hard not to feel sympathy for the way the girls have treated him as he commiserates with his mum over broken hearts and lost opportunities. 
Despite containing their biggest hit (and that only upon the eponymous soundtrack re-recording), Talk Talk Talk was their weakest seller before they jumped the shark after ‘89’s Midnight To Midnight. But it deserves another evaluation for the subtleties hidden within its deeper tracks. 
Jeff Penczak  / Soundblab