Review Summary: Much more of the good thing besides "She Drives Me Crazy" and well, the "Good Thing".
In the history of modern music only a few bands have been able to successfully combine completely different genres of music on a single album without sounding unfocused, or worse, without losing their identity. Probably the most obvious example of this is The Clash and their 1979, double album, London Calling, in which punk, rockabilly, ska, reggae and pop combine together to form a timeless masterpiece where each and every song though very different, still sounds unmistakably like The Clash.
In early 1989, Fine Young Cannibals (FYC) released another melting pot of styles album, The Raw And The Cooked. It was their second, and unfortunately last album, but what an album it was! Almost everyone knows the unavoidable smash hit “She Drives Me Crazy” and many have heard the second number one hit from the record, “Good Thing”, but the good news is there are eight other pop, rock, soul, funk, electronic masterpieces on here. The truth being that nine out of ten songs could have been radio hits with only “Don’t Let It Get You Down” being much more experimental sounding track featuring singer’s Roland Gift’s falsetto somewhat reminiscent of Prince (or for the younger generation, Cee-Lo of Gnarls Barkley or Tunde Adebimpe from TV On The Radio). While we are on the topic of singer, I believe Roland’s voice is just as his last name suggests, truly a gift, as it is one of the most distinct male voices of the 80’s decade, which was very rich decade in that musical aspect . Just remember Robert Smith of The Cure, Sting (from The Police), and even Phil Collins (we are judging the voice not the songs now ;-) Gift’s voice has that blessed quality that it sounds sincere and real no matter what kind of music is backing it up.
Speaking of music, the other two members; bassist and keyboardist David Steele and guitarist Andy Cox, both formerly of British ska-pop-punk group The (English) Beat, have already in their previous band shown they have a knack for creating irresistible melodies and rhythms (just remember songs like “Mirror In The Bathroom”, “Hands Off She Is Mine”, “Save It For Later” and many more). These talents are on display all over The Raw And The Cooked. Let’s take a closer look at the song “She Drives Me Crazy”. What is it? Is it a dance song, rock song, pop song, soul song? All of the above! It’s a type of crossover track that comes around every ten years or so. In 90’s Lenny Kravitz had “Fly Away”, in 00’s Franz Ferdinand had “Take Me Out”. I still pick “She Drives” over the other two. It features probably the most distinctive and hardest snare in the popular music history and catchy interplay between the distorted guitar and falsetto vocals. There is a very interesting article on the web on how co-producer of the song David Z (who in the past has worked with Prince) has helped make every element of the song sound so distinctive and still combine so well with the others. David lent his talents in two other similarly electro-funk driven tracks, “I’m Not Satisfied” and “It’s OK (It’s Alright).
However, as I’ve mentioned earlier, more than anything The Raw And The Cooked displays FYC’s amazing range of styles: “Good Thing” features fast piano lines, muted guitars, infectious hand claps centered around the hypnotic toe-tapping rhythm, “Tell Me What” combines tender 60’s Motown soul and faster reggae rhythm, “As Hard As It Is” shines through with its vulnerability and Gospel influenced melody, while “Don’t Look Back” brings a smile with its infectious circular guitar hook reminiscent of 50’s rock, especially timeless “La Bamba” by Richie Valens or The English Beat’s own ‘Walk Away” (from Wha’ppen).
One song that stands out emotionally for me (although that is the one that I hated as a 13 year old who purchased this tape in ’89, but fortunately we grow and learn) is James Brown’s “Funky Drummer”-breakbeat-backed, “I’m Not The Man I Used To Be”. What is so arresting here is how bass and guitar play around that famous drum beat, creating exciting loose and funky vibe while Gift laments why he is drinking too much and possibly referencing the most famous song in Rock’s history, “Yesterday” (by The Beatles) in which Sir Paul sang “I’m half a man I used to be”, by proclaiming “I’m not the man I used to be”.
Yet despite all the history lessons and references throughout The Raw And The Cooked there is only one cover song here, the closing, The Buzzcocks’ “Ever Fallen In Love”. Though not on the level of FYC’s amazing Elvis cover “Suspicious Minds” from their eponymous album, it does feature yet another thrilling Andy Cox’ funky guitar workout and closes the album without a single dip in musical quality. If you haven’t already, do yourself a favor and get The Raw And The Cooked, because this kind of album with the perfect balance between artistic and commercial, organic and synthetic, past and present comes around very, very rarely.