Album of the Week, December 15: Talk Talk Talk by the Psychedelic Furs

PFursTalk3Emerging in the space between punk and new wave, the Psychedelic Furs drew from clear, powerful influences. They took their name from the Velvet Underground song Venus In Furs and clearly draw from that band’s most musical output. They merged the rough-edged art rock of early Roxy Music with the quirky austerity of Berlin-era David Bowie and threw in the grit and ironic eye of the Sex Pistols. Singer Richard Butler’s gravel-in-felt vocals created helped make a distinctive sound as the band blended their influences into one of the most distinct and powerful sounds of the immediate post-punk era. Butler’s brother Tim played bass and Vince Ely handled the drums.  John Ashton’s stunning guitar work provided a musical roar that helped define the band’s sound; equally critical was the stellar sax work of Duncan Kilburn. Second guitarist Roger Morris rounded out the sextet. They shared songwriting credits and musical vision, releasing a strong, eponymous debut album in 1980. They returned to the studio promptly and crafted one of the best albums of the 80s.

Title Talk Talk Talk
Act The Psychedelic Furs
Label Columbia Release Date June 6, 1981
Producer Steve Lillywhite
U.S. Chart  #89 U.K. Chart  #30
[U.S. Hot 100]
  1. Pretty In Pink [#41]
  2. Mr. Jones
  3. No Tears
  4. Dumb Waiters
  5. She Is Mine
  6. Into You Like A Train
  7. It Goes On
  8. So Run Down
  9. I Wanna Sleep With You
  10. All of This And Nothing

Ironically, things kick off with a song that was later co-opted into the safely mainstream teen film vision of John Hughes.  Pretty In Pink loaned its title to his film and the band recorded a slicker version of the song for the soundtrack. Although the new version became one of their few US hits, the stark original has far more power. It’s the tale of a woman uncertain of her romantic powers and needs, deftly told in Butler’s raspy observations. (Her pink is the beauty of her nude form, by the way, not a prom dress…)

Mr. Jones is a powerful screed on consumerism and personal vulnerability, propelled by Ashton’s buzzsaw guitar. It’s one of the band’s most urgent numbers and keeps the pace moving nicely. No Tears takes a cynical look at politics and finds all the participants wanting. A call to action is almost drowned out by Butler’s siren blare vocal on the chorus as the verses take on a quieter, sombre feel. The overall impact is daunting.

Kilburn’s sax takes the lead on Dumb Waiters, a frenzied blast of desperation. Butler demands his individuality, knowing that he lacks the resources to succeed in Thatcherite Britain. The swirling guitars provide a perfect backdrop. Side one closes with one of the band’s most tender songs, She Is Mine. Butler delivers one of his finest vocals, pondering romance in an impersonal age. It’s a remarkably touching delivery and a lovely musical package for a band best known for their roar.

The roar returns with Into You Like A Train. The image is straightforward and Kilburn and Ashton create a sonic image that evokes the train perfectly. It’s a fine merger of sound and lyric and one of the band’s best moments. The next two songs work nicely as a pair. It Goes On is a driving song about the pointless tedium of much of modern life; So Run Down notes the exhaustion that comes with that pace. It’s a great combination and continues the musical power of the band as a tight-knit unit. I Wanna Sleep With You is, surprisingly, an even more direct song than Into You Like A Train. With a very sex-positive, let’s enjoy ourselves, no strings attached lyric, it could be read as cynical. Butler’s delivery saves it, however, making it an earnest offer and a fun song.

The album ends on a very high note indeed. All of This and Nothing opens with a brief acoustic figure that sets a quite different tone from the rest of the album. It fades, opening a much more Furs-sounding track in which Butler details the bits and pieces of a broken relationship. The disjointed images and stark delivery work perfectly together, and the seamless support from the band creates a powerful closing song. As the final drumbeat smashes, the acoustic figure returns for a short coda, allowing the painful memories to fade away. It’s a brilliant end to a great album and a fine celebration of a band at the height of their cohesive powers.

FURTHER LISTENING: Sadly Kilburm and Morris left shortly after; the remaining quartet moved to New York and hooked up with producer Todd Rundgren. Their collaboration, Forever Now, is a slicker sound and not nearly as consistent; it does feature their fine single Love My Way. The next disc, Mirror Moves, is actually a fine album — it just doesn’t sound much like the Furs. It does serve as a fun reminder of what good 80s dance pop could sound like and features solid songwriting from the band. After that, the Furs got lost in the alt-rock shuffle and never really recaptured their sound or their spirit. Other than Talk Talk Talk, the best Furs album to own is the two-disc Should God Forget, a 33-track career retrospective. It features the best tracks from each album and leaves behind the filler, creating a nice overview of a complicated, occasionally brilliant group.

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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