Robert Christgau: Dean of American Rock Critics

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The Psychedelic Furs

  • The Psychedelic Furs [Columbia, 1980] A-
  • Talk Talk Talk [Columbia, 1981] A
  • Forever Now [Columbia, 1982] A-
  • Mirror Moves [Columbia, 1984] B+
  • Midnight to Midnight [Columbia, 1987] B
  • All of This and Nothing [Columbia, 1988] A
  • Book of Days [Columbia, 1989] C+
  • World Outside [Columbia, 1991] Dud
  • Should God Forget: A Retrospective [Columbia, 1997] A-

Consumer Guide Reviews:

The Psychedelic Furs [Columbia, 1980]
They're a posthippie band who satirize hippie fatuousness as well as a punk-era band who send up anti-hippie orthodoxy, but I love them for simpler reasons: they're great junk and they sound like the Sex Pistols. Richard Butler's phrasing and intonation owe so much to Johnny Rotten's scabrous caterwaul that he's got to be kidding and ripping him off simultaneously, and the calculated rave-ups recall the overall effect sought by the punk godfathers, who were always somewhat grander than their speedy, compulsively crude epigones. That's what makes the Furs great junk--it can't be great unless the possibility remains that it's really pretentious. A-

Talk Talk Talk [Columbia, 1981]
Don't let Richard Butler's heartfelt snarl and Vine Ely's pounding pulse stun you into thinking that this merely recapitulates a great formula. It's richer melodically, texturally, and emotionally: Butler's '70s-'60s mind games have evolved into the bitter double nostalgia of a reluctant romantic who half-believed in 1967 and then half-believed again in 1976. And if commitment gives him problems, at least he's passionate about sex. I loved the first Furs album because it seemed so disposable; I love this one because it doesn't. A

Forever Now [Columbia, 1982]
It's not band breakdown (Duncan Kilburn's sax replaced, John Ashton's guitar gone) nor pop sellout (Todd Rundgren in for Steve Lillywhite at the board) nor tired songcraft (hookier than the junk-punk debut if more ornate than the powerhouse follow-up) that makes this quite entertaining album less than credible. It's the half-life of cynicism as a public stance. Last time Richard Butler's surprising new emotionality made for a winning world-weariness, but this time it sounds just slightly pat, more or less what you'd expect from a quite likable phony. A-

Mirror Moves [Columbia, 1984]
Tired of the sardonic fake Pistolese, Richard Butler turns his heartfelt dispassion to an approach that bears the same relation to Bowieism as the earlier Furs did to punk. His seducerama is in the manner of an aging matinee idol who isn't quite as famous as he thinks he is; he sings as if he's known you for years even though you're both perfectly aware that so far your relationship goes no further than his offer of a lift back to your place. And if you're feeling detached enough yourself, you just may take him up on it. B+

Midnight to Midnight [Columbia, 1987]
As his pose proves ever more profitable and baroque--dig that silken-haired punk déshabille--Richard Butler reminds me more and more of Glenn Miller, who in his time also provided a lush, enthralling, perfectly intelligent alternative to the real thing. Butler's snarl is a croon, his harsh guitar sound a grand echo, his selfish rage a soothing reminder that some things never change. B

All of This and Nothing [Columbia, 1988]
This best-of sounded tired last summer, but when I returned it to the turntable around Election Day, "President Gas" presented itself as prophecy and Richard Butler's existential fatigue as the decade's great romantic stance. Pitting his penchant for beautiful melody against his penchant for ugly guitar and wrapping it all up in the mournful ennui of his carcinomic baritone, Butler is an unapologetic poser, but the pose takes on unexpected dignity when you hear how faithfully he's explored it over what is now a full-length career. He rages against the dying of the light, and refuses to play the cornball in the process. A

Book of Days [Columbia, 1989]
Because this was unmistakably the P-Furs and unmistakably a stone bore, I figured we must have overrated this band. No one ever accused them of having the funk, after all. Comparison with Talk Talk Talk and even Forever Now soon set me straight, however. Before slipping into chronic depression, Richard Butler intoned amid chaos--the dissonant drones that here parade by in formation detonate all over the earlier records, which makes most of the difference. And although this isn't as lugubrious as you first fear, speed also matters. Usually folks who quit drinking stop sounding sorry for themselves afterwards. C+

World Outside [Columbia, 1991] Dud

Should God Forget: A Retrospective [Columbia, 1997]
Punk engenders postpunk, which incorporates--these guys are English, after all--its essential prepunk Bowie-Ferry axis, but bypasses its equally essential pub, garage, and roots axes. All operative imperatives are purely aesthetic, powered by vagaries of taste, quiddities of form, and oddities of talent; however inevitable the resulting music may have sounded, it was obviously all pose, and just as it had no cultural significance then, it has no historical significance now. All it does is go around on its track and sound good--surprisingly good, considering how meaningless it is, and how inexorably it descends toward sounds-bad. With sincerity off the table, and tune and performance steady as they go, the great puzzle then becomes why the band couldn't keep it up. Because aesthetic imperatives have a moral life just like cultural and historical ones, that's why. A-

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