Graded on a Curve:
The Psychedelic Furs,
Made of Rain

Celebrating Richard Butler who turned 66 yesterday.Ed.

Post-punk, new wave, college rock, modern rock, alt-rock: The Psychedelic Furs have been associated with all of these styles, and the band’s first full-length studio effort since 1991 offers a sharp extension of their ’80s developments with the added kick of solid songs and a general sense of collective commitment. That the Furs avoid attempting to regurgitate bygone commercial peaks is admirable; additionally, all the members have been with the band for over a decade in a live context, which is reflected in cohesiveness and heft. While not a document of perfection, Made of Rain is still a worthy affair. It’s out now on LP, CD, and digital through Cooking Vinyl.

If all the songs on Made of Rain were up to the standard of its first cut, the set would teeter on the precipice of a knockout. Regardless, this is still one of the positive shockers of 2020. Said opener, “The Boy That Invented Rock & Roll,” is driving and layered, with Rich Good’s guitar resonating up a storm as bassist Tim Butler and keyboardist Amanda Kramer thicken the post-punky atmosphere. And courtesy of saxophonist Mars Williams, there’s a touch of skronk that helps to establish the seriousness of the whole endeavor.

More importantly, Richard Butler’s singing, while immediately recognizable, doesn’t overplay the raspy distinctiveness of his voice. But maybe most interesting, the track avoids revving up to a predictable finale, instead winding down and dissipating ahead of the spirited “Don’t Believe,” which is more anthemic and with a chorus that’s pretty clearly designed for live audience rousing, all while underscoring the role of the brothers Butler in shaping the Alternative Rock sound of yore.

It’s a gesture that works because it’s fairly subtle. “You’ll Be Mine” slows the pace a bit but is no less intense, blending strum, tendrils of saxophone and drummer Paul Garisto’s churning thud, with the song emphasizing Made of Rain as no nostalgia trip. This isn’t to imply that the record is devoid of pop gestures, as the next cut makes clear. It just that the soaring passages of “Wrong Train” aren’t attempting, at least overtly, to stir memories of “Heartbreak Beat” or “Pretty In Pink.”

What’s still extant is vocalist Butler’s biting lyrics, which helps reinforce that this is still the Psychedelic Furs, as “This’ll Never Be Like Love” leans into pop even more, though it sounds pretty well-suited for an end of the evening slow dance at a Goth-Waver barn party. And it gets significant bonus points for how it mingles Williams’ classic ’70s-style jazzbo studio ace soloing with Good’s big rawk guitar flourishes.

Although I won’t rank it as an album highlight, “Ash Wednesday” does successfully integrate all the instrumental elements into an engaging weave. Individuals do get the chance to shine however, with both Butlers elevating “Come All Ye Faithful,” which has a sorta ’80s alt-art-funk sensibility reminding me a little bit of The The. In the next cut, “No One,” Good and Garisto step to the fore, or better said do so alongside Richard, whose investment in the proceedings (there’s no traveling through the motions here) is pretty crucial to the record’s overall health, as he’s a non-instrument wielding frontguy.

But I should add that Kramer’s input deepens the impact, often without striking the ear as trad keyboard or as an approximation/ substitute for synth, though “Tiny Hands” is an exception in terms of both. It’s here (late in the album) where many comebacks (I hesitate to describe this record as such, since the Furs have been active as a live entity for a long while now) start running low on inspiration, but that’s not the case here. Instead, they take the prettiest number on the record and complicate it with the opening line “Hide the medicine from the kids” (that’d be “Hide the Medicine”).

“Turn Your Back On Me” offers a late dose of Richard’s bleak imagery, hangdog motions and acerbic asides as Good delivers another power boost, and then “Stars” posits an achy finale only to ramp it up, and finally, abruptly pull the plug, which fits in with 2020’s general trajectory something fierce (It’s worth noting that the album was originally scheduled for release in May, with the first single arriving at the end of January).

While nothing after “The Boy That Invented Rock & Roll” hits as hard, none of the songs register as a letdown (which is basically how The Psychedelic Furs’ later records from their initial run struck these ears back in the day). For a studio return after this long of an absence, Made of Rain is an impressive feat.

GRADED ON A CURVE:
B+

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