Album of the Week, April 7: The First of A Million Kisses by Fairground Attraction

FirstofaMillionThe British band Fairground Attraction started out with a bang. Scottish singer and songwriter Eddi Reader has a stunning voice with a wide, clear range. Welsh guitarist Mark Nevin is a talented songwriter and a sympathetic accompanist. The English rhythm section of Simon Edwards (guitaron and bass) and Roy Dodds (percussion) round things out nicely. They had a lovely neo-Skiffle sound, mostly acoustic and centered on Nevin’s strong songs and Reader’s incomparable voice. In early 1988 they blasted onto the British charts with their debut album (entering at #3) and the #1 smash Perfect. Four singles and a failed attempt at recording a follow-up album later, the Attraction was packed up. Their brief association left us with one of the finest albums of the 80s, however.

Title The First of A Million Kisses
Act Fairground Attraction
Label RCA Release Date  5/1/1988
Producer Fairground Attraction with Kevin Maloney
U.S. Chart  #62 U.K. Chart  #2
[U.S. Hot 100]
  1. A Smile In A Whisper
  2. Perfect [#80]
  3. Moon On the Rain
  4. Find My Love
  5. Fairground Attraction
  6. The Wind Knows My Name
  7. Clare
  8. Comedy Waltz
  9. The Moon Is Mine
  10. Station Street
  11. Whispers
  12. Allelujah

Things kick of delightfully with A Smile In A Whisper a perfect introduction to the band’s sound. Bright and chiming, it is a celebration of love and happiness with some of Nevin’s finest lyrics and a spot-on delivery by Reader. The light acoustic sound introduces the album nicely and it’s clear how much fun the band have making their music.

That spirit takes center stage in the second song, their massive international hit Perfect. A joyous demand for the love we deserve, it’s infectious pop at its best. The band is in sync and Reader bounces jauntily through the lyrics. The title promises a lot, and the song truly delivers. Although it barely dented the U.S. charts (making Fairground Attraction a true One Hit Wonder), it #1 at home as well as Australia and South Africa and a big hit in Japan and New Zealand. It featured a celebratory video, won a BRIT award, and set high expectations for the band.

The album has a number of lyrical themes that recur. Language (especially whispering), the moon, and the weather make many appearances, tying the songs together along with the beautifully consistent sound. The third track, Moon On the Rain, introduces two of these themes with a wistful air. Reader repeats the entreaty “Ah, Sweetheart” throughout as a delicate accordion line winds through the tune. Things turn hopeful in Find My Love, a flamenco tinged number that has the singer showing off her range as she seeks her ideal match.

The album lacks a title track, but does feature the song that named the band. Fairground Attraction is a dark, haunting song, much more funhouse mirrors than merry-go-rounds. Creepy fairground music accompanies Reader as she tells the sad tale of a doomed love and a fortune teller’s warning. Weather blows back in with The Wind Knows My Name, a song of restless longing. Unwanted knowledge resurfaces in Clare, a song about a voodoo priestess from New Orleans who has stolen the singer’s lover. Reader’s desperate ache merges with the jazzy clarinet to conjure up the Mississippi delta.

Comedy Waltz is another ironic title, with the singer longing for relief from the news of the world and the nasty people who surround her. Things rise from there with The Moon Is Mine, a song of determination. It’s a lovely insistence that no matter what may befall the singer, there is hope to be had, even if it is just the joy of moonlight. Station Street is a sad, elliptical tale of a stranded child with references to war and isolation, disturbing but effective.

Reader’s one writing contribution is Whispers, another homage to storytelling and mysteries. It’s a real showcase for her vocals as she scats and soars around the haunting words. The album wraps up with another song of promise, the lovely Allelujah. It’s a sweet song about a shy couple who see each other every day and are finally ready to risk love, promising the album title’s “first of a million kisses.” That wraps up the great package on a high note, twelve quietly diverse tracks with great lyrics, lovely singing, and superb musicianship.

CD and digital releases include two bonus tracks which are actually two of the finer songs. Mythology is another dark song, nicely reflecting the doubts of a woman burned by promises of love. Falling Backwards is a burst of joy much like Perfect, a celebration of love and hope with an infectious groove. Unlike many CD releases that pack in filler, these truly enhance the overall experience of the album.

FURTHER LISTENING: The band disintegrated during the sessions for its second album, Ay Fond Kiss. Reader left early and the disc was a hodgepodge of B-sides and skeletal tracks around promising Nevin compositions. He later joined with Irish singer Brian Kennedy as the one-off duo Sweetmouth to give these songs life. It’s a solid disc but lacks the magic of Fairground Attraction. Nevin also works extensively as a songwriter, collaborating with Kirsty MacColl and others.

Eddi Reader launched a solid solo career after leaving the band. She occasionally pairs with Nevin and frequently works with other strong partners like Boo Hewerdine. Her albums range from homages to Robert Burns to sweet, simple acoustic discs to complex pop. The finest is 1998’s Angels and Electricity, a brilliant mix of songwriting and beautiful singing.

About Robert Hulshof-Schmidt
Freelance writer, researcher, online comic vendor, and project manager. Fan of a wide range of music -- especially folk and 80s pop -- vintage comics, British TV, and LGBT fiction.

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