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The Psychedelic Furs: A Perfect 10

40 years and still sounding raw and unique

A phonograph in black and white in front of a curtain in Twin Peaks

The Psychedelic Furs are a British new wave band founded in London in February 1977. Led by singer Richard Butler and his brother Tim Butler on bass guitar, the Psychedelic Furs are one of the many acts spawned from the British post-punk scene. The band are still performing and have released their eighth studio album Made of Rain on 31 July 2020. It is hard to choose just ten tracks from so many, but I have narrowed down to this perfect ten.

“India” The Psychedelic Furs – 1980

Please don’t think I am lazy by starting my album with the opening track from the debut album. “India” has a slow, quiet, prolonged start (2 minutes) and then BAM! in come those drums and you are introduced to the unique vocals of Richard Butler. Never a single, “India” remains a favourite of the band and introduced what they described as “beautiful chaos”, with all six band members vying for attention within the music. This song deals with the attitude that the problems of others are of no concern to us, and perhaps sets out the stall for what will drive the music of The Psychedelic Furs.

“Into You Like A Train” Talk, Talk, Talk – 1981

That powerful momentum is sustained with this track from their second album. Another song that wasn’t a single but is a firm live favourite to this day. It was a controversial song with the clearly confronting title and lyrics, but although they are from the standpoint of a man seeking to satisfy his lusty desire, Richard Butler stated it is also relatable for women too.  Interesting to note the first two albums were produced by Steve Lillywhite, who was working with U2 at the time.

“Heartbeat” Mirror Moves – 1984

It felt fitting that with the saxophone playing such a prominent part in the music of this band, that it should take centre stage early on. What an ethereal sound. Although born in the UK, Richard Butler considers himself a New Yorker and his love of the city and its culture has infiltrated into his music. Lyrics including “When the music goes down, I hear a heartbeat” comes from the deep passion for the energy within the city. Am I the only one in thinking that the saxophone is such an under used musical instrument in the current music scene? I don’t understand why that glorious sound that was so prevalent of bands in the 80s is hardly heard today.

“President Gas” Forever Now – 1982

I remember being quite intimidated by the title of this song at the time. The imagery it conjured up was pretty challenging for my teenage years. Of course it is a political song, but not necessarily protesting against one side or the other. Richard Butler’s lyrics, “He comes in from the left sometimes, he comes in from the right”, suggest a disdain for politicians as a whole. The accompanying music is as dramatic as you would expect from such subject matter.

“Sleep Comes Down” Forever Now – 1982

After the drama of “President Gas”, a change of pace. “Sleep Comes Down” is from the third album Forever Now which was produced by Todd Rundgren. The strings in the track produce a more dreamlike quality, in keeping with the song title. The lyrics suggest the noise that can go on in our minds; that internal dialogue that can be difficult to quieten. “The orchestra’s playing. It’s so very loud. And I’m biting my nails. Until sleep comes down”.

Two band members, Duncan Kilburn and Roger Morris, left before the recording of the third album, even though the first two albums had had success and provided charting singles. The remaining quartet looked to the States for a producer for this album, and perhaps this disruption was the backdrop for this song.

“So Run Down” Talk, Talk, Talk – 1981

Let’s pick up the pace again. Driven by a drum beat, this song reflects the challenges of modern life. Too much to do, not enough time, and the stress of constantly rushing around. “I don’t think that I can stand, I’m so run down” sings Richard Butler. The music itself is busy, noisy and chaotic, perfectly matching the sentiments in the lyrics. And then there is that saxophone again, adding to the intensity of the vibe.

“Mr Jones” Talk, Talk, Talk – 1981

Only fitting that we now blast it through to the end of this compilation album. “Mr Jones” was the third single released in the UK. It didn’t chart, however again it is a favourite live. Here Richard Butler was critical of how unrealistic romance is portrayed in the media, advertising and culture. For the ordinary Mr and Mrs Jones, both referred to in the song but interestingly not in the title, this version of romance is difficult to find in the real world.

“Pulse” The Psychedelic Furs – 1980

Another track from the debut album and a little like “Heartbeat” which came later, this track again seems to refer to the city and perhaps the politicians who run them. “This is the pulse of fools like you. Who sound so red and turn so blue. The sound of uselessness in summer. The war is over if you want.” The reference here could be to the red of the Labour Party and the blue of the Conservatives, and how eventually power corrupts. The track is only 2mins 38secs long and has a sense of urgency and driving drum beats emphasizing the darkness.

“You’ll Be Mine” Made of Rain – 2020

The album Made of Rain was released a staggering 29 years after their previous album, World Outside in 1991. On the Cooking Vinyl label this feels like The Psychedelic Furs of old. As is inevitable with any successful band, The Psychedelic Furs lost their way a little but always had a devoted fan base who loved their music. So to finish with a song from the current album seems only fitting and speaks volumes about their longevity. They still sound raw, powerful and emotional 40 years after their debut. This song is actually about death but it is hidden away in the majesty of the “beautiful chaos”.

“In the ticking of the time, you’ll be mine”, says the Grim Reaper. A reminder perhaps, now more than ever, we should be grateful for the smallest of things and cherish the fleeting passing of time.

Written by Julia Mason

I love funky punky music you can dance to, and that's the type of music that inspires my writing. Currently an admin for the Fontaines D.C. Facebook fangroup "What's Really Going On?" which now has almost 4000 members. Living in Edinburgh, UK I am also a member of Pentland Triathletes and have completed two Half Ironmans. Good to meet you!

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