Only a handful of groups from the late 1970s/early 1980s punk and New Wave explosion remain active today. More significantly, of those surviving groups, even fewer have consistently retained their underground clout and dignity while managing to sell tons of records along the way.
The Psychedelic Furs can be counted among them. With the cool modernism of their spectacular 1980 eponymous debut, the British outfit revealed a unique take on the genre they were repping. The raspy nonchalant delivery of lead singer Richard Butler was (and still is) the most engaging component of the Furs' sound, Butler somehow managing to meld the sneer of Johnny Rotten with the iciness of Bowie's Berlin-era recordings and come out on the other end with a vocal style all his own.
Collaborating with a string of hotshot producers who managed to harness the band's unique sound on each record also helped the Furs make their mark, from Todd Rundgren's masterful production work on 1982's Forever Now — which features their signature song and one of the more enduring New Wave anthems, "Love My Way" — to 1984's Keith Forsey-produced Mirror Moves. But longtime fans generally cite the Furs sophomore release, 1981's Talk Talk Talk, as being the "best Furs album" and their most definitive one. Produced by the now-legendary Steve Lillywhite, the sonically dynamic LP is a beautiful mess of chaos, poetry, art, imagery and aggression.
The band obviously feels just as strongly about the album. In what's become a common trend among their contemporaries, the Furs celebrate Talk Talk Talk's 30th anniversary by performing it in full on their current tour. "We'll play the entire album in the first set, take a 15-minute break, and then come back to play all the other hits and some of the misses," joked founding member/bassist Tim Butler (brother of Richard) when I spoke with him during a recent phone interview.
Butler said so far, the response has been great. "It really is a quality album; it still sounds current," he told me without the slightest trace of egotism. What people often don't realize, he added, is that "it really is an aggressive and energetic album. Most people know us for more mid-tempo songs like 'The Ghost In You' or 'Love My Way'; they forget about some of the stuff on this album. It's really a young band's album."
Deep cuts like "It Goes On" or "So Run Down" — "Those haven't been played since the original tour for the album in 1981," he recalled — have received similarly positive feedback. "It's been fantastic," he added.
Butler admits that he was somewhat skeptical about performing an album in its original song-by-song running order, live and in concert, but he came around soon enough. "It's a new spin on the ticket-buying market," he seemed happy to admit.
As he shared more insight into the band's esteem for the album, Butler reminded me of the climate in which the album was originally released: "This was a time when we were still making inroads into what was known as 'alternative music.' The album was No. 1 on college radio, which was a pretty big deal back then." Butler also lamented the accelerated pace of the music biz now. "Back then it was about developing an artist over time. Now, it's only about instant gratification. I don't want to sound like I'm 100 years old, but attention spans aren't what they used to be."
It was a different time. These days, music is so accessible that it's more about making a one-click decision; back then, the anticipation of finding music was just as important as making the purchase. I felt a kinship with Butler as he reminisced: "Oh yeah ... I remember saving up my pennies and going down to the record shop and just flipping through records. It was about seeing the artwork and taking chances. I made a lot of bad buys and I made a lot of great buys." He laughed, and told me how he first read about The Ramones in the British press and went out and bought their record before ever hearing them. "I just knew I was going to like it."
"It's about mass marketing now, not about the art form," he continued. It made me wonder how many 16-year-olds have never experienced the pleasure of rummaging through racks in a record shop, of finding and holding an unknown album in their hands for the first time, of making the important choice to invest, of being able to look back on that moment with enduring fondness. As I continued chatting with Butler about various other topics, I found myself firmly clutching my own prized copy of Talk Talk Talk, the same copy I've owned since the early 1980s and managed to have personally autographed at one of the many Furs concerts I've attended over the years. I remembered the eagerness I felt every time I played this particular album ... and I find myself feeling that same anticipation as I think about hearing it performed live, in its entirety, right here in my hometown.