The Psychedelic Furs formed in London in the late 1970’s, but found worldwide success in the next decade. Forty years later, the Butler brothers, Tim and Richard are still very much around and touring the world.
Their first album, produced by Steve Lillywhite, The Psychedelic Furs, was released in 1980. “Sister Europe,” “India” and “We Love You” introduced the band and their brash, busy sound. Highly energetic, the band always sounded like 10 pounds of music in a five pound sack, an “in your face” mix of sound.
Lillywhite went on to produce U2, the Rolling Stones, XTC, Dave Matthews Band, Steel Pulse, Peter Gabriel, Talking Heads, Morrissey, the Killers, the Pogues, David Byrne, Big Country, Blue October, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Simple Minds, Phish, Counting Crows, Joan Armatrading and many other top-name act. The Furs got his at the beginning of his great career, and they helped him as much as he helped the band.
The debut album opened the musical door rather brashly, but the second album, Talk Talk Talk (1981), blew the door off the hinges. Again produced by Lillywhite, the album bristled with song that were fresh and challenging. Lillywhite sculpted the sound but didn’t dull any of the energy as evidenced by the minor classic “Into You Like a Train.” The most notable song on the album was “Pretty in Pink,” though not the best. The song became the title of a John Hughes teen film of the same name. “Dumb Waiters,” “All of This and Nothing” and “Mr. Jones” are resounding songs that still imbibe the urgency and chaos of the Furs wailing guitars and saxophone, along with Richard Butler’s raspy voice.
As planning for the third album began, Forever Now (1982), several members of the band departed and Lillywhite became unavailable. Enter Todd Rundgren as the new producer. Rundgren was a hands-on producer who was involved in shaping the composition and structure of the songs. Rundgren rebuilt the band’s sound to infuse his pop sensibility around the strongest element’s of the Fur’s textures. The best song of the new collection is their greatest hit, “Love My Way.” Rundgren added a maturity to the arrangements and sound. “Presidential Gas” and “No Easy Way” are well-known songs on the album.
Mirror Mirror (1984) switched producers again but the hits continued. Keith Forsey (Billy Idol, Simple Minds) was behind the control board. “Heartbeat,” “Heaven,” “Highwire Days” and “The Ghost in You” were the stand-out tracks. The album was their second gold album. The young, upstart band was becoming part of the middle class.
Midnight to Midnight (1987) was produced by Chris Kimsey (Rolling Stones) and was their highest charting album with an even more commercial sound. “Heartbreak Beat” rose to number 27 on the charts. The band entered the decade with a bombastic, tangled sound of guitars and sax, and finished it with a sleek, top 40 sound, that critics questioned. While chart successful, even the Butler brothers thought they had gone too far and lost the soul of their originality. Too much success?
Book of Days (1989) ended the decade on a change of direction. Reverting back to a stronger guitar sound and less polish, and using a producer who worked with The Cure, this album had was less successful but returned to a more raw sound.
World Outside (1991) was the last Furs’ album of original material. “Until She Comes” was a fine song but the group could no longer depend on radio support. Music had moved on.
The group disbanded for much of the 1990’s as the Butler brothers formed a different band, before reforming the Furs in 2000. Since then they have toured extensively, doing the 1980’s cruises and festivals, and playing smaller venues across the world. Their catalog of songs provides an concert of hits.
The Psychedelic Furs had a very original sound, more adaptive than the most of the synth-pop bands that cold only recycle their initial sound. The Furs had the benefit of working with some amazing producers who sculpted their grandiose sound without ruining it.
I saw them in 2015 at an outdoor venue with a close view of the stage. The Butler brothers are still in fine form and with the excellent touring band more than replicate the complex sound of their recordings. Amanda Kramer on keyboards can reproduce the eerie, ambient layers of texture from their albums. Mars Williams has played saxophone with the Furs on and off since 1983. He is not only proficient and helps stretch out the songs but a fine showman onstage. Guitarist Rich Good skillfully reproduces the original works of John Ashton.
The Furs are one of my favorite bands of the decade, they had the musical creativity to keep growing, but they did a funny thing, they stopped. Success had a price. Bands of the era like The Psychedelic Furs, The Church, The Fixx and Tears For Fears survived the era, tasting success and failure, but moving forward, on their own terms. It’s what rock and rollers do.