Review Summary: F#ck Molly Ringwald..
To those too young or oblivious to the Psychedelic Furs before John Hughes came along, it might seem like the director had all but spawned the band when Pretty in Pink
came out, a full four years after the titular song kicked off Talk Talk Talk
, the band’s sophomore album. The song, cued up in a key kissy-prissy scene, had originally peaked at #43 on the charts in ’82, then shot up in re-recorded film form all the way to #13 four years later, usurping both the radio and the band that wrote it.
Understandably, too prolonged a display can be poison to a song. You leave green fruit out in the sun too long, and it races right through ripening and into rot. And all things considered, it was a pit “Pretty in Pink” had no choice but to fall into. Hughes’ exercises in glitter-spackled 80’s horseshittery were always going to be a formidable presence. He portrayed America in the most digestible and beloved way imaginable, a gilded loop of sunny suburbia, decked out in quiet subtexts of unending plenitude and chapsticked romance. Even the kids from the wrong side of the tracks in his films tended to look like grimed-up catalog models. And so every note sewn into that myopic pink puff was going to be similarly smothered. “Pretty in Pink” is neither the worst song on Talk Talk Talk
, nor is it a bad song by any measure. Just a product of overexposure and one too many coffin nails.
Luckily, Talk Talk Talk
gets the ham sandwich out of the way early (at least on the US editions), and proceeds to sprint, strut and slouch through one low-key anthem after another without losing its footing. The inchoate punk schisms and celluloid production of the Furs’ debut is pulled back here somewhat, enough for ruggedly sparkling pop to find its way through inlets of least resistance. The work shows, and Talk Talk Talk
would yield them their first sturdy stints on the charts.
Though their debut hinted at it, that patented feeling of remoteness that was the permeating trend of the time, giving most every album a sense of existing outside the permutations of the palpable, is almost entirely absent here. It’s especially evident when collated against the debut’s rhythm section, previously an aloof, tunnel-effect drone, is resuscitated to full effect, by turns rubbery and jagged, and fully involved in the proceedings, as opposed to a utilitarian metronome. This is warm humane fuzz, albeit one that’s still occasionally decked out in buzzing synths and sputtering art-drums, to give just it enough adaptive brio to persevere through commercial radio’s modalities.
There is an acrobatic tilt to Talk Talk Talk
, how it manages to balance itself on a strung line between two radical cusps, the detached goth-tinged post-punk of Robert Smith that was usurping airwaves around its release date, and the garish new-wave chintz that was to follow, as Duran Duran and Depeche Mode hit their commercial prime. The Furs straddle the mid-line without letting either sub-genre’s frailties spill over. The record ravels out in blistering bits, with numbers like “No Tears” and “Dumb Waiters” sporting both the detached underbelly of its post-modern origins, and the electric acrobatics of some old fashioned rock n’ roll. Butler’s ragged vocal tone grounds the album considerably, lending it humanity that often salvages Talk Talk Talk
from sinking too far into post-punk barrenness.
Like their across-the-pond peers The Replacements, Psychedelic Furs were a band whose sound was in utter flux, tracing radio tropes in the face of their own artistic vision. And much like The Replacements did, that balancing act would eventually tip firmly to the pandering side, turning their tunes, previously packed with personality, into a streak of gaudy new-wave banality. But Talk Talk Talk
captures them in that indelible moment, a young band eager to please and unwilling to tumble headfirst into concession, cutting great songs like it’s nobody’s f#cking business.