Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The Psychedelic Furs- Talk Talk Talk (Columbia Records, 1981)

Every time I've ever tried to name the most underrated rock bands of all-time, The Psychedelic Furs have been one of the first groups to come to mind. In fact, I'd be hard pressed to think of a more underrated band, ever, than the Furs. It's not that the Furs have been completely forgotten. And I certainly can't say that they didn't sell a lot of records. But for the most part, I don't think people realize just how good this band was - especially in its early days. In an era in which so much incredible music was being made, The Furs were one of the most creative and unique bands going. They may be best known for their slicker new wave pop hits, but prior to that they made two of the greatest post-punk LPs of the early '80s. The second of the two makes my short list of desert island discs.

In contrast to the Furs' dense, brooding debut, Talk Talk Talk is a bundle of energy. It adds a brighter pop sensibility to the band's modernized fusion of Berlin-era Bowie and Roxy Music, and it's the one Psychedelic Furs album that clearly shows the group's punk roots. Compared to its predecessor, it's a far more accessible record. Yet it's no less of an artistic achievement. From start to finish, it's the finest collection of songs the Furs ever wrote. And Steve Lillywhite's large-scale production, which came off a bit "grandiose" in his work with U2, is a perfect fit for the Furs' crackling wall of sound. Spearheaded by Vince Ely's powerhouse drumming, Duncan Kilburn's ebullient saxophone, and John Ashton's textured guitar lines, Talk Talk Talk is as rocking as it is arty. And it is both, with a huge injection of '60s pop melody to boot. The influences at play are hard to miss, yet the Furs were a classic case of a band that borrowed certain elements and proceeded to "make them their own". Sure, there's a little bit of David Bowie in Richard Butler's vocals. But ultimately, no one in the world sounds like Richard Butler (although many have tried!). Gravelly-voiced and emotionally charged, he's an absolute force on Talk Talk Talk. This is an album chock full of classic tracks ("Pretty In Pink", "Into You Like A Train", "Mrs. Jones", "Dumb Waiters"), and it's hard to imagine any of them with a different singer. No doubt about it: Richard Butler is the man!

Talk Talk Talk would be the Psychedelic Furs' last album as a six-piece. With the departure of Kilburn and second guitarist Roger Morris, the band's sound was scaled back and gradually commercialized (their next album was produced by Todd Rundgren - talk about a dramatic change!). And while I'd classify all of the Furs' later records as good to very good, there's something truly special about their first two. Talk Talk Talk in particular is one of the seminal works of "alternative" rock. It's the perfect bridge between the band's arty beginnings and later pop success, and in a good way it brings together all the best qualities of early '80s new wave rock. If you mixed the sexy sophistication of Roxy Music with the sonic experimentation of Kraut rock and the "edginess" of punk, then somehow made it all appealing to the masses without sacrificing an ounce of artistry, that would be the Furs in their prime. I won't discourage anyone from going out and buying a quality Furs best-of collection. But this is one of those bands, like the Pretenders, where you really miss out if you pass on their best album. Save the greatest hits package for later. Talk Talk Talk is where you have to start with The Psychedelic Furs.

-Josh Rutledge

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