Wednesday, April 17, 2002

Psychedelic Furs

Posted By on Wed, Apr 17, 2002 at 12:00 AM

Talk Talk Talk
Psychedelic Furs
Columbia/Legacy

Forever Now
Psychedelic Furs
Columbia/Legacy

Psychedelic Furs
Psychedelic Furs
Columbia/Legacy

It’s hard to convey the sheer alien-ness of the Psychedelic Furs when the British six-piece appeared on the scene in 1980. First, of course, there was the uncool choice of moniker, a cheeky move that got up the noses of London punks (“Strawberry Alarm Clock” was already taken). Appearance-wise too: equal parts leather-jacket punk black, drab raincoat gray, pasty faces and Ray-Bans, the Furs looked like a poor man’s Velvet Underground fronted by a cheerless, squinting Lydon wannabe.

Plus, the all-over-the-map debut LP sent wildly mixed musical signals. There was overt menace and lurching chaos worthy of the class of ’77 by way of magnificent album opener “India.” Its Phil Spector-meets-Martin Hannett echo-chamber of sound mated Bonham drums, Pistols guitars and Roxy saxes while lead throat Richard Butler’s nicotine rasp and sardonic “ha-har!’s confirmed the Lydon impression. The tune literally rammed into you like a train (hold that thought). The rest of the album was brutally efficient, from the cocaine sibilance and Bowieisms of “Sister Europe” and the murky Factory Records agitation grind of “Pulse” to the overly Velvetish “We Love You” and an orchestrally inclined ballad, “Imitation of Christ,” that foreshadowed the group’s later, more commercial efforts. On this newly remastered CD, bonus tracks include a pair of numbers actually produced by Hannett (speaking of Factory Records) that appeared on the English but not the United States edition of the album, “Susan’s Strange” and “Soap Commercial.” Better yet is the non-LP cover of “Mack The Knife,” as lurid and disgusting as a psychedelic goth slob giving out free blow jobs.

That B-side, in fact, graced the flip of the irresistibly jangly “Pretty In Pink,” a convincing “Sweet Jane” rip-off that appeared on 1981’s Talk Talk Talk. A few years later the tune would simultaneously elevate (commercially) and deep-six (critically) the Furs’ fortunes when filmmaker John Hughes spun it into a drippy Molly Ringwald vehicle bearing the same name. (Poor ol’ Mols has a lot to answer for; did anyone really care about Simple Minds, either, after The Breakfast Club?) But at the time, while the sophomore release didn’t possess the visceral wallop of its predecessor, its hi-res, low-murk streamlined brand of aural chaos was potent. “Mr. Jones” sounded like T. Rex produced by Brian Eno, and another rumbling juggernaut was unleashed titled, you guessed it, “Into You Like A Train.” Bonus tracks here are negligible, although the mix for the edited single version of “Mr. Jones” is markedly brighter.

With 1982’s Forever Now, the Furs aimed straight for the United States jugular, bringing in Todd Rundgren as producer even as they shed a couple of members and brought in session musicians (including sax whiz Gary Windo and — get this — Flo and Eddie on backing vocals). As such, the streamlining got even sleeker in texture and yielded the (admittedly compelling) radio hit “Love My Way.” College girls across America did their little Belinda Carlisle shimmy-dances to the Furs, the band availed itself of the then-young MTV’s resources, and all that was left to do was sit back and wait for John Hughes to call. Much of the album betrays fatal ’80s damage; the worst offender, “Danger,” might as well be an Information Society track. But a handful of tunes — the dissonant “President Gas,” the title cut (another neat “Sweet Jane” rip-off) — pass muster. Six bonus numbers are appended, notably a live “No Easy Street,” although most have surfaced previously on P-Furs compila

For the reissues Legacy has performed its usual remastering wizardry, as the discs have a fantastic, almost wide-screen quality to them. Solid liner notes from ace scribe Tony Fletcher grace the booklets as well. Reservations about the third album notwithstanding, the Furs’ early ’80s trilogy is not to be dismissed. What — you’d rather be stuck holding a bunch of A Flock of Seagulls records?

E-mail Fred Mills at letters@metrotimes.com.

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