What does it sound like?:
There is so much goodness struggling to break out from this remastered 4 CD set that you ache for it to be set free. Instead, it touches the sky and then retreats. Why? Well, it’s the wrong album.
Different people know Big Country for different things: the “bagpipe guitars” of “The Crossing”; the protests (and Boo Hewerdine’s coke comment) of “Steeltown”; or the rock of “The Buffalo Skinners”; or, and most importantly, the soft country-influenced rock of “Driving to Damascus”.
My point – and I’ll do the Damascene revelation in a sec – is that most every BC album has its own theme and it sticks to them. There are comment themes to most of the albums – lost love, mistreated lovers, political protest – in terms of the lyrics, but the music arrangements have their own integrity. Maybe it’s just me, but each one has its own label for easy categorization.
Every one of them, that is, except Why The Long Face. Part “Buffalo Skinners”, part “Driving to Damascus” and part…well, no thing at all, it’s a curate’s egg of an album. Individually there are some cracking songs. ‘Charlotte’ is for my money one of the best things they did, exploring a torn love affair from the perspective of the broken woman, something they’ve done before. Stuart Adamson had a gift of being able to write effectively from perspectives he had no right to be express as fluently as he did. ‘Message of love’ too is good tune with roaring guitars and something you’ll sing along to.
But my honest reaction is that this feels like a compilation of songs that never quite made other albums. You can see the genesis of ‘Driving to Damascus’ and some of The Raphaels in “Far from me to you” or ‘Sail into nothing’ which, stripped down more, would be a dead cert. It’s easy to love each track in isolation – and I do – but perhaps not album to listen to in its own right. Put together a BC compilation on ‘random’, and this would fit in seamlessly.
As for the rest: demos, rarities, and a remastered “Eclectic”. They’ve done the demo/rarity thing before – I now own three different versions of Steeltown, each with new additions and demos. This continues that trend. It may not be for everyone, but if you’re a completist – and I suspect most modern day BC fans are – then this is right up your street. I appreciate seeing how the songs develop, and also seeing just how talented the band are in these songs. It’s occasionally easy to lose Stuart’s lyrics in the music, but the stripped down versions make you appreciate even more just how good a lyricist he was, and how much of an underappreciated protest singer he was (which is another thread in and of itself). Name the Falklands protest singers: Costello. And? Well, Adamson should be on that list.
Eclectic? There’s stuff here you’ve heard before if you’re a die hard. If not, it’s an interesting insight into a band that you thought was all electric bagpipey soaring guitars and e-bows. It makes me wish I’d seen the acoustic gigs if I’m honest, such is the feeling of joy you get from hearing them play. You also get a sense of Stuart’s musical background. From The Skids to BC, you can make some lazy assumptions: but he likes Joni Mitchell (Big Yellow Taxi) The Band (Old Dixie…) – not just a punk made good, but a music fan.
Would I buy this? Well, duh. I’ll buy everything they release (see comments on three versions of Steeltown, and yes, OK, The Seer, and yes, OK, The Crossing passim). Would I buy it if I were a casual fan? I might. The good outweighs the bad by a fair margin, and there’s stuff here you won’t get anywhere else. If I knew nothing about them? Nah. I’d go to one of the unmastered albums, one of the original releases. The Crossing probably, or Buffalo Skinners. But this is a worthy release, even if they picked the wrong album. If this had been the Buffalo Skinners, this would have been a “must have”.
What does it all *mean*?
When they were good, they were very very good
Goes well with…
Plaid shirts. Washed out jeans.
Might suit people who like…
80s guitar rock. Who wonder what U2 might have been like if they had any soul.