One of the better and most underrated bands of the '80s, The Psychedelic Furs delivered the goods right from the get go on their self-titled debut album, which somewhat confusingly had different track listings on the U.K and U.S. versions of the album, a problem that's since been rectified by the CD reissue, which includes the U.K. only song ("Blacks/Radio"), the U.S. only songs ("Susan's Strange," "Soap Commercial"), and adds two (inessential) bonus tracks to boot. Actually, I prefer the original U.S. version of the album, since "Blacks/Radio" isn't one of my favorite songs (plus it's 7 minutes long) whereas the U.S. songs are definite keepers, but in any event any version of the album is very good. The band definitely wear their influences (late '70s Bowie, The Velvet Underground, The Sex Pistols) on their sleeves, but they also had their own attributes that made them stand out from the post-punk crowd. For one thing, singer Richard Butler's ultra-raspy, defiantly British, nicotine stained sneer was one of a kind (some find him to be an acquired taste but I think he's great), Duncan Kilburn's prominent saxophones always add a distinctive flavor, and though standout songs such as "India," "Pulse," and "Flowers" are definitely groove-based rump shakers (Vince Ely supplies the big beats which are also a trademark of producer Steve Lillywhite), the band were also extremely atmospheric, as evidenced on the lovely "Sister Europe," probably my favorite song here. "Imitation Of Christ" was another moody yet hooky should've been hit, ditto the simple, singable, poppier "Susan's Strange," and really the whole album is solidly enjoyable throughout even if maybe the rest of the songs aren't quite as memorable.
Talk Talk Talk (Columbia ’81) Rating: A-
More of the same high quality stuff, perhaps slightly better in fact, as this album has more consistently memorable songs and similarly compelling performances. It also houses the best version of their signature song, “Pretty In Pink,” which is simply a classic pop single that of course is indelibly linked to the John Hughes film (which used an inferior re-recorded version of the song) of the same name. In that respect, the Furs share a similarly unfair fate as the Simple Minds, another quintessential “’80s band” who these days are unfairly remembered as something of a one-hit wonder by those who forget that they actually had several hits (at least the Furs wrote their big hit, however). Anyway, there are many other fine songs here, including classy mellower efforts such as “No Tears” and “She Is Mine,” brazenly straightforward sex-crazed rockers like “Into You Like A Train” and “I Wanna Sleep With You,” the hooky sax-led should’ve been a bigger hit “Dumb Waiters,” an ambitious multi-sectioned epic in “All Of This And Nothing,” and other worthwhile songs like the hard-hitting “Mr. Jones,” the highly melodic “So Run Down” (like many songs here also featuring Ely’s trademark big beat), and “It Goes On,” an impressive showcase of the band’s Edge-y guitar heroics. I should’ve probably mentioned before that the band’s trio of guitarists, including guitarists John Ashton and Roger Morris, and bassist Tim Butler, were quite capable even though the other instrumentalists (Ely and Kilburn who also plays keyboards here) continue to stand out more, and singer Richard Butler of course is the band’s single most distinctive and charismatic presence. Anyway, I really don’t have much to complain about here, perhaps a few of the songs mentioned above are merely good rather than very good or great, meaning that this album on the whole is merely very good rather than great, but 30 years later it’s still a highly recommended, easily enjoyable listen.
Forever Now (Columbia ’82) Rating: A-
The band’s third really good if not quite great album in a row featured a pared down lineup, as Kiburn and Roger Morris departed, as did producer Steve Lillywhite. Then again, if anything the band’s (less sax-reliant) sound is more expansive and accessible this time out, likely as a result of working with producer Todd Rundgren, who plays keyboards, sax, and marimba himself (plus session musicians play horns and cello while Flo and Eddie add backing vocals). Butler's vocals are a bit smoothed over and less raspy, but more importantly the songs are consistently good, highlighted by the catchy riff-driven title track (whose dated bright keyboard sound is noted but not a hindrance), the terrific Bowie-fied marimbas and keyboards-led pop single “Love My Way” (a modest hit and probably their second most famous song after "Pretty In Pink"), and the cynical and hard rocking (but also still catchy) “President Gas.” I like the whole album, though, including the moody, mysterious, edgy “Only You and I” (“post-punk” is still an accurate description here), the dreamy, sleepy (until the intense ending anyway) “Sleep Comes Down,” the highly melodic jangle pop rocker “Run and Run,” the mellow, atmospheric “No Easy Street,” and finally the fine finale “Yes I Do (Merry-Go-Round),” on which Ely provides his final big beats for the band, as he too would depart after the completion of this album. Horn-heavy, danceable tracks such as “Goodbye” and “Danger,” while not as immediately appealing to me, have grown on me as well, but even if they hadn't it would still be ok because the rest of the album is really good. Forever Now was the final installment of an extremely impressive original trilogy of albums.
Mirror Moves (Columbia '84) Rating: B+
Now down to a three piece (the Butler brothers and Ashton) with new producer Keith Forsey helping out on drums (and drum machines), Mirror Moves sees a mellower Furs delivering a smoothed over, more airbrushed keyboards-driven sound. Fortunately, the songs are generally still good, in particular “The Ghost In You,” “Heaven,” “Like A Stranger,” and “Highwire Days.” “The Ghost In You” may deliver easy listening synth pop with airy harmonies, a far cry from the band’s early “post-punk” sound in other words, but it’s boosted by a stellar melody, and “Heaven” is also pretty, melodic, and catchy. “Like A Stranger” has a nice mid-tempo melody as well, while “Highwire Days” has an alluringly lush sound, a good rhythm track, and a big singable chorus. There are a few songs here that are fairly average, and the glossy ‘80s sound is a hindrance at times, but “Heartbeat” was a danceable hit (with their old friend the sax again prominent) and “Only A Game” a convincing rocker. Though a step below the prior three albums quality-wise, perhaps in part because the band lost just a little bit with each band member defection (certainly the drums on this album are less impressive than in the past), and also because Forsey isn’t as good a producer as Lillywhite or Rundgren, Mirror Moves was still another very good album overall. It was their bestselling album to date, too (actually each album had sold more than the one before it, so it was the continuation of a trend), though it also turned out to be their last truly good album.
All Of This And Nothing (Columbia '88) Rating: A
This 14-track compilation album does an excellent job of summing up the Psychedelic Furs, who are somewhat forgotten today (2014) aside from maybe a few songs that still get infrequent airplay. One listen to this album should convince you that their best music is still enjoyable to listen to and is worth remembering, even if most mindlessly boring radio stations have forgotten them. This album takes the two best songs from The Psychedelic Furs (“Imitation Of Christ,” “Sister Europe”), four of the best songs from Talk Talk Talk (“She Is Mine,” “Dumb Waiters,” “All Of This And Nothing,” and “Pretty In Pink), three of the best songs from Forever Now (“Love My Way,” “President Gas,” “No Easy Street”), and probably the three best songs on Mirror Moves (“The Ghost In You,” “Heaven,” “Highwire Days”). It also adds the hummable hit “Heartbreak Beat” (from the underwhelming 1987 album Midnight To Midnight) and a good new rocker (“All That Money Wants”) that’s actually worthy of inclusion, and the song sequencing is solid enough to not really be an issue given how strong these songs are. Of course, I could quibble that there are songs missing, “India” (the debut in general warranted more than a mere two songs), “Into You Like A Train,” and “Forever Now” for example, and that the single version of “Pretty In Pink” included here is inferior to the album version on Talk Talk Talk (it’s still good though). Still, I’ve always had a soft spot for this band, going way back, and in listening to this album again for the first time in ages I can hear why I liked them so much. Given that they made several very good but not quite great albums, I’m glad that they released this first-rate collection, which provides a fine starting point for beginners while also appealing to longtime fans. Note: I’m not a big fan of later albums like 1989’s Book Of Days or 1991’s World Outside, but I do like some select songs like “Should God Forget,” “House,” and “Until She Comes.”
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