Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Vinyl Vednesday 12/15/2010

[Vinyl Vednesday is a weekly feature about three favorite vinyl finds. It’s not meant to be a dick-measuring contest, but it usually turns out that way. This week’s installment commemorates Big Country, whose brilliant but troubled frontman Stuart Adamson committed suicide Dec. 16, 2001. Um… e-mail with your own big finds?]

Big Country’s The Crossing (1983), Steeltown (1984), and The Seer (1986), all on classic black.

Place of Purchase: Crossing came from the late, lamented Disc World in Conshohocken, while the other two came from Siren Records in Doylestown.

Thoughts: I got into Big Country on a whim – I saw The Crossing for like $3 at Disc World, remembered being really into their big hit “In a Big Country,” and figured I might as well take a looksy at their rockitude. Produced by Steve Lillywhite (U2, The Smiths, and, uh, Evanescence), the record is rife with Celtic-tinged highland rock. Guitarists Adamson and Bruce Watson used effects to make their guitars sound like bagpipes. It was such a simple trick, but a genius one – The band managed to honor Irish/Scottish folk while maintaining a solid rock edge. They don’t sound anything like The Pogues, but they somehow cover similar territory. Crossing was a revelation for me, pretty much because of that hit single, and I played it constantly when I got it.

That said, I honestly prefer Steeltown. None of the tunes quite top “In a Big Country,” but as an overall album, it flows nicely. This is also where the band figures out its formula, going from just a group with a gimmick (that one guitar trick) to a more fully formed sound. There are plenty of moments where the group recalls its biggest hit (like the “hah!” on “Where the Rose is Sown”), but they also lock into place. “Country” is good because of the guitar, but here there’s an interplay between Adamson and drummer Mark Brzezicki that’s just killer. And while “Big Country” will always be the band’s best song, “Flame of the West” is certainly a solid second place. Very few ’80s records “rock,” but Steeltown sounds amazing. It’s one of those albums that probably would have killed had it come out 20 years sooner or later.

The Seer is where the band’s formula starts to get a little worn. The lyrics are sometimes awkwardly self-conscious in their political leanings, and there a couple of moments where they blatantly rip off “Big Country.” But hey, it’s still Celtic rock. I don’t play The Seer nearly as much as the first two Big Country records, but it’s still solid, all things considered.

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