Album of the Week, January 5: The Crossing by Big Country

BigCCrossingStuart Adamson grew up near Dunfermline in Scotland. He picked up the guitar early and formed a couple of bands while in school. He was a member of the post-punk band the Skids in the late 70s. When they broke up, he joined forces with guitarist Bruce Watson and went through a couple of early versions of Big Country. They solidified as a foursome, with Adamson also taking on lead vocals and adding Tony Butler on bass and Mark Brzezicki on percussion. They developed a distinctive sound based on a firm rock foundation. With Adamson’s powerful voice and a driving, anthemic approach, they added a transposer and e-bow to their guitar sound, creating a unique highlands sound reminiscent of bagpiping. Signing with Mercury and attracting rising star producer Steve Lillywhite, the crafted a stunning debut album.

Title The Crossing
Act Big Country
Label Mercury Release Date  July 15, 1983
Producer Steve Lillywhite
U.S. Chart  #18 U.K. Chart  #3
Tracks [U.S. Hot 100]
  1. In A Big Country [#17]
  2. Inwards
  3. Chance
  4. 1000 Stars
  5. The Storm
  6. Harvest Home
  7. Lost Patrol
  8. Close Action
  9. Fields of Fire [#52]
  10. Porrohman

In the liner notes for The Crossing‘s 1996 repackaging, Adamson describes the sound in this way:

The music I felt wasn’t like the music I had grown up hearing, or rather, not like any one of them. It was all of them jumbled up and drawn into something I could understand as mine.

That music, ably abetted by his talented bandmates, rang out like a clarion. Tossed into the synth-heavy new wave pop of the day, it presented a crisp, guitar-and-drums rock sound with a twist that made the band stars at home and a distinctive One Hit Wonder in the US. That hit was the self-referencing lead track, the charming In A Big Country. A driving, chiming song, it showed off the guitar effects as a strong part of the sound, not merely a gimmick, and also demonstrated Adamson’s vocal chops. Another single, the stirring Fields of Fire, proved that Big Country’s approach worked in many settings, but failed to crack the US Top 40. It’s a wonderful song, however, and anchors the album’s themes nicely.

The disc is anchored by such modern anthems. With themes of hope, honesty, cooperation, and determination, the band looked at the dangers of the world and vowed to work together against them. Lyrically, the songs tend toward the naturalistic, with images that conjure up Scottish hills and seaside cliffs. Presented in sketches and fragments, the bold vision of the music blends with the hints and vows of the lyrics to inspire. Inwards, 1000 Stars, Close Action, and Harvest Home have their hints of darkness but still provide hints of hope. The martial Lost Patrol is bleaker but no less stirring, showing off the horror and frequent pointlessness of military action.

They also weave in an element of the personal, saving the songs from becoming too pedantic or pretentious. That personal note also resonates in the quiet, haunting Chance. A tale of a life wasted on broken love, it’s one of the band’s finest moments and one of Adamson’s most compelling vocals. On a more epic scale, The Storm is grand tale of loss and despair writ large but narrated from the achingly individual. Together, the pair show off the best of Big Country. The album ends with a song inspired by an HG Wells short story, the mysterious, powerful Porrohman. A whirling rainstorm of a song with mythic proportions, it captures the power of Big Country nicely and ends the disc with a strong promise of things to come.

FURTHER LISTENING: Big Country avoided the sophomore slump with Steeltown, a more cohesive but not quite as strong set that proved they had lasting potential. After that, they toned down the guitar effects and became a more straight-ahead rock band, but still turned out a steady stream of satisfying albums that capitalized on their musical unity and Adamson’s potent delivery. Sadly, he was prone to depression and by the late 90s had taken to disappearing. He committed suicide in December 2001, effectively ending Big Country despite a couple of band attempts to reunite. The band have been heavily anthologized and many of their outtakes, live-only tracks and B-sides are quite worthy. The best “hits” overview is 2003’s Ultimate Collection.

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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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