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The Psychedelic Furs

+ {Love Spit Love} + {Richard Butler}

A vintage slice of post-punk miserabilism tracing the classic-rock lineage of The VELVET UNDERGROUND, ROXY MUSIC, BOWIE, The ONLY ONES et al, The PSYCHEDELIC FURS’ discordant mesh of jagged melody, inwardly spiralling guitar and singer Richard Butler’s cracked monotone, placed the London band firmly at the forefront of the alternative rock scene – then some would say, they got caught up in the commercialised MTV overdrive.
Formed in 1977, brothers Richard and Tim Butler (bass), Duncan Kilburn (saxophone), Roger Morris (guitars) and Paul Wilson (drums) performed as a punk act under the names of RKO, Radio and The Europeans, respectively, before coming up with their VU-inspired moniker. By 1979, Vince Ely (from punks The UNWANTED) was preferred over Wilson, while the addition of lead guitarist John Ashton (also ex-UNWANTED) rounded the combo up to a 6-piece. Garnering a bit of much-needed credibility via a Radio 1 John Peel session slot, the band signed to Epic Records and duly issued their debut single, `We Love You’ (b/w `Pulse’). In an attempt to catapult the band into major stars from the get-go, parent company C.B.S./Columbia took control of their proteges for their follow-up single, `Sister Europe’ and, although little day-time airplay led to another shortfall, somehow it managed to create a stir and a Top 20 spot for their eponymous, Steve Lillywhite-produced debut LP, THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS (1980) {*8}. Featuring all of the above (re-sequenced for the American market), other highlights to grace this evergreen and mystifyingly underrated set, were the opener `India’, plus `Fall’, `Imitation Of Christ’, `Flowers’ and the glowing `Wedding Song’ – one of their songs to hear before you croak.
Subsequently relocating to New York, the ‘Furs rebounded from two singles, `Mr. Jones’ and `Dumb Waiter’ (the latter battery-charged to a mangled STOOGES vibe), to succulent sophomore Top 30 set, TALK TALK TALK (1981) {*8}. A record that might’ve made more concessions to pop/rock convention, it made up for any foibles with gloriously subversive songwriting aplomb: `Into You Like A Train’ and `I Wanna Sleep With You’ were leeringly self-explanatory, while the lugubrious `Pretty In Pink’ provided the sextet with a near Top 40 hit (b/w a cover of Weill & Brecht’s `Mack The Knife’), and something to bank for the future. Read on.
The PSYCHEDELIC FURS quartet (minus Morris and Kilburn) hooked up with legend TODD RUNDGREN for the slightly showboating FOREVER NOW (1982) {*6}, a combination that looked interesting on paper but somehow failed to translate on to vinyl. Not short of horns by way of guests Gary Windo and Donn Adams (bonus session player Todd was joined by backing vocalists FLO & EDDIE), the album dented the Top 20 while stalling one place short of the US Top 60. The sentimental `Love My Way’ pointed the way forward having hit Top 50 status in the UK and, in turn, the US, but on reflection, `President Gas’, `Danger’ and `No Easy Street’ were the only tracks to come up trumps as the band edged away from their innovative junk-punk period.
After a year that saw ex-BIRTHDAY PARTY man Phill Calvert replacing ROBYN HITCHCOCK-bound Ely on a massive U.S. tour, seasoned electro-dance producer Keith Forsey was drafted in as the temporary sticksman on fourth set, MIRROR MOVES (1984) {*6}. Despite flashes of darkly melodic inspiration from hit `Heaven’ (and possibly `The Ghost In You’), a suffocating slick production erased any traces of mystery or danger, further testing the patience of many long-time fans. With added spice from former WAITRESSES sax man Mars Williams, and its surprising position soaring within the transatlantic charts, fans of the MTV video-age could snap their fingers to `Heartbeat’, `Here Come Cowboys’ and the seductive, BOWIE-esque `Highwire Days’.
A rush re-released `Pretty In Pink’ – delivered high into the charts to coincide with the film of the same name (inspired by the song itself) – illustrated just how lifeless their newer material had become; namely `Heartbreak Beat’ and `Angel Don’t Cry’. Both tasters from the terminally dull MIDNIGHT TO MIDNIGHT (1987) {*4}, the transatlantic Top 30 set showed no signs of an imminent return to form and had the cheek to bookend their Frat-pack cinematic hit. Note that Mars again played sax and Paul Garisto stepped in on drums, alongside a number of other session men.
With Vince back on the drum stool, `All That Money Wants’, failed to generate extra sales for a career-spanning ALL OF THIS AND NOTHING (1988) {*8}, while a further fresh effort, BOOK OF DAYS (1989) {*5}, attempted a more credible approach to diminishing commercial returns and minimal critical reaction. Echoing The CURE or The Bunnymen in its Dave Allen production values, the Furs days looked numbered on everything except `Entertain Me’, `Mother – Son’ and, at a push, their flop 45 `House’.
The Butler-Ashton-Butler combination (with guest drummer Don Yallech on board) were afforded one further stab at the mainstream with 1991’s WORLD OUTSIDE {*4}. Co-produced by Stephen Street, the group were certainly trying their damnedest to forge a link back into the hearts of their fickle fans. Sadly, only `Until She Comes’, opener `Valentine’ and `Don’t Be A Girl’, were of any merit to those a world outside Richard’s mind-set.
And with that, the Furs had hung up the mink stoles for the foreseeable future. Unable to take a step back from the limelight, Richard formed his much-touted solo project, LOVE SPIT LOVE, which, with the addition of guitarist Richard Fortus and drummer Frank Ferrer (both Americans), plus brother Tim Butler, released an eponymous LOVE SPIT LOVE (1994) {*5} album for Imago-RCA. Not particularly inspiring but for `Half A Life’, `Jigsaw’ and the single `Am I Wrong’, this was their ELECTRAFIXION moment a la ECHO AND THE BUNNYMEN.
Unwilling to give up on his side-link to possible pop resurrection (via a cover of The SMITHS’ `How Soon Is Now’ for the film The Craft), singer Butler signed to MADONNA’s Maverick imprint for sophomore set, TRYSOME EATONE (1997) {*6}. Minus Tim, for Chris Wilson, the US-only post-grunge themes left sentimental slush behind on tracks such as `Little Fist’, `Friends’ and `More Than Money’.
The PSYCHEDELIC FURS were back in action post-millennium and even offered up one fresh track (`Alive (For Once In My Lifetime)’) and a best-of selection on 2001’s concert piece, BEAUTIFUL CHAOS: GREATEST HITS LIVE {*6}. The Butlers, Ashton, Fortus and Ferrer were the line-up at this point in time.
The eponymous RICHARD BUTLER (2006) {*6} solo set, on the other hand, took the man on a journey that even The APHEX TWIN or COLDPLAY might’ve shied from; Teaming up with co-writer/engineer/multi-instrumentalist Jon Carin (ex-Industry), no release date was granted in the UK (just Koch Records in the States); the axis of the set centered around such austere pieces as `Broken Aeroplanes’, `California’ and `Breathe’.
In 2013, Richard Butler featured on a Westbam single, `You Need The Drugs’, while The PSYCHEDELIC FURS had re-formed once again with Richard and Tim Butler, plus Rich Good (guitar), Mars Williams (sax), Amanda Kramer (keyboards) and the aforementioned Paul Garisto (drums).
© MC Strong 1994-2006/GRD // rev-up MCS Aug2015

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