What does it sound like?:
TFF’s second album, Songs From The Big Chair, had seen them conquer the world (and soundtrack my paper rounds of 1985). Following an exhausting year-long world tour, they holed up in multiple expensive studios with various producers including Langer and Winstanley, all of which were scrapped in favour of producing themselves with engineer Dave Bascombe.
By the time of the release of the third album they’d spent three years indoors, blown a million quid on studio fees, and driven themselves bonkers in the process of recording and mixing. Never ones to crack a joke, the strain was showing. I remember reading interviews at the time where they were taking home DAT tapes and struggling to choose the best mix, never easy when you have 100 channels of overdubs to tweak.
I first heard this in my student digs on a badly-dubbed tape and the complex Talking-Heads-meets-Sgt.-Pepper arrangements didn’t really make sense. The next time was on CD, loud in a car speeding down the M20 to Dover, and everything fell into place. I vowed to buy it as soon as I found a record shop.
This box collects together the album (freshly remastered at Abbey Road), a CD of b-sides (there were only a handful) and a multitude of single edits, half a CD early mixes, half an hour of live-in-the-studio first takes, and a Blu-Ray containing a high-res stereo master of the original album mix and a 5.1 Steven Wilson mix.
The five b-side tracks on CD2 will be familiar to anyone with the Saturnine Martial & Lunatic compilation, the best of which (Tears Roll Down) is like something left off My Life In The Bush of Ghosts. TFF always gave good b-side (some went on to be re-recorded as A-sides) . A multitude of 7″ single & radio edits gets very repetitive but avoids the “but they missed off the Brazillian promo edit” SDE nerd complaints.
CD3 has early mixes and they’re fully-formed, but I doubt I’ll play them more than twice. The solo electric piano version of Woman In Chains is lovely, like something off the Twin Peaks soundtrack.
CD4 is half early home demos, including Rhythm of Life written by Roland for their backing singer Oleta Adams, a “Clanger-Winstanley” mix, and half an hour of Live in Townhouse studios run-throughs and jams (a spontaneous run through Broken from the previous album and the Kinks’ All Day And All Of The Night in Badman’s Song) where they seem to be having actual larking-about FUN! – not a word often used to describe TFF.
I’m not going to comment on the sound quality of a stream, but I’m sure anything with the Steven Wilson seal of approval will be fine.
What does it all *mean*?
It has been a long wait since word of this box set first broke in late 2014.
The five b-sides are a fine addition but the mutitude of edits don’t add anything to my enjoyment – I didn’t buy any of the 12″ singles from this as the album tracks were already the long versions.
The early takes show the songs and arrangements were already fully-formed.
Sometimes, what you leave out is as important as what you add in.
Goes well with…
Box sets of The Hurting and Songs From The Big Chair
Friday 9th October 2020
Might suit people who like…
Talking Heads, The Blue Nile, Prefab Sprout, 80s blue-eyed soul