It has always puzzled me why Big Country have often got such a bad press. When discussing music, if you say you like Tom Waits, Neil Young or The Smiths, people will nod sagely in agreement with your great taste. If you say you like Big Country they either laugh or shake their heads. Quite why, I just don't know - a) this is a great debut album; b) their first four-five albums were all both competent and credible; c) they were superb live; d) their sound was unique; e) Stuart Adamson is much missed and was a much underrated songwriter and indeed singer/guitarist.
As I said, this is truly one of the great debut albums. Released in 1982 it contained a sound unlike anything anyone had ever heard. Yes, the band were Scottish, but the guitar sound really did sound like bagpipes.
The album is full of Jacobean imagery (aided by the inner sleeve drawings) and the skirl of rabble rousing calls to arms. Just listen to the opening riff of Harvest Home or the energy of some of the lesser-known rockers - the pounding, early U2-esque Inwards, Close Action and Lost Patrol. Or the Celtic soul on the heartbreaking lament and in concert crowd favourite, Chance -
"....He came like a hero from the factory floor
Were the two he left you with...."
1000 Stars has an absolutely killer riff and a huge rolling drum sound, Inwards also rocks riffily, while the folky guitar-driven The Storm is overflowing with Scottish historical ambience. Then there is the mighty closer, Porrohman, which sounds great on this remaster. Some stonking guitar. Watching them perform this live was an experience. Big Country's audiences were always passionate, involved and enthusiastic. Singing along to Chance, bouncing along to Fields Of Fire. Great memories - a true Caledonian masterpiece. Incidentally, the "deluxe edition" contains several excellent tracks that did not appear on the album, notably the lively rock of Angle Park and The Crossing, the latter being particularly impressive.
Rolling Stone's Kurt Loder described the arrival of Big Country on the scene in these glowing, and very apt, terms-
"...Here's a big-noise guitar band from Britain that blows the knobs off all the synth-pop diddlers and fake-funk frauds who are cluttering up the charts these days....Big Country mops up the fops with an air-raid guitar sound that's unlike anything else around anywhere..like the young Irish band U2, with whom they share a producer in Steve Lillywhite, they have no use for synthesisers...."
I couldn't have said it better myself, hence my utilising this excellent quote. Pictured above is Harvest Home by John Linnell 1858
Other themes on this highly politicised album, as well as the decline of traditional industries with no replacements in mind, was the mid-eighties obsession with nuclear war and armed conflict in general, and strong romantic orthodox male and female characteristics. The archetypal Big Country male character is square-jawed, flinty-eyed, hard-working but taciturn, his female partner is pretty, but stoic and stronger than you would believe.
"...Just like Josephine, it will not be tonight
Great stuff. Adamson wrote it for his wife, apparently.
I have always had a problem with the sound on this album, though - it is muffled, indistinct and decidedly lo-fi. Some critics reacted negatively towards the album, calling it muddled and overly dense, in many ways I have to agree, however, this latest "deluxe edition" has finally remastered it acceptably, although I believe there will always be limitations from the original recording sessions. Just the way it was recorded at the time. No amount of remasterings can change that. Maybe the slightly dulled sound was intentional, like the crashes and thumps of a Glasgow sheet metal foundry. Maybe therein lies its appeal. The music somehow mirrors the intended ambience. Check out the dull thump of the title track's intro. Somehow this album has to be listened to on a cold wet, winter's day. It is certainly not a "sunny day album".
"...Where will we find the newborn year as the winter crashes down?...".
The Seer (1986)
This, Big Country's third album, harked back to their debut with its traditional Scottish ambience, cloaked in mythology and folklore. In some ways it is their most obviously Caledonian album with is references to Scottish history, landscape and landmarks.
I always find this album is very much a winter one. I always tend to play it in November (because of Remembrance Day, no doubt ). Apart from that, it just seems to have a winter feel about many of the songs and images. It must be noted, though, that the track was actually written about the late 18th century Highland Clearances, when many Scots were deported against their will to New Zealand and Canada.
There was a much better, clearer sound quality after the murk of the previous album and evidence here of the band beginning to diversify a little, instrumentally. There were more acoustic guitars and a bit less “bagpipe” sound. Again, this is another album that shows just what an underrated band Big Country were. The lyrics to this verse from The Seer give a taste of the historical, Celtic feel of much of the material on the album-
"...Long ago I heard a tale I never will forget
Good stuff. Pictured above are the Eildon Hills, Scottish Borders.
From Here To Eternity is also a solid piece of guitar rock, with a hook of a chorus and a killer swirling, lyrical intro, while Everything I Need is another subtle, quite folky ballad, with some crystal clear acoustic guitar. Eternity would certainly not be out of place on the much-vaunted previous album, The Seer. Peace In Our Time is an excellent, inspirational rocker, again with an addictive, singalong, fist-pumping chorus. Like King Of Emotion, a live concert favourite.
“All the years I lived in this place
The people I knew here
I loved every face
I loved the parties, the funerals, and fights
The supermarket needs my land
I have no rights...”
Those are heartfelt, socially conscious lyrics. People may try to put them down. Not me. Not for one second. Stuart Adamson should have been given far more credit. Some of his songs are genuinely moving. Secondly, I Could Be Happy Here is from a similar mould, but ends an album tied up with historical leaving of Scotland on an optimistic note, although the general feel of the album is one if sadness. I truly feel this was Big Country’s best album. Not a bagpipe guitar riff in earshot though, but in many ways it was their most Scottish album. The Caledonian-Celtic airs, ambiences and references are all still there, just as strongly as on many of the other albums, if not more. Whatever anyone says, this is a good album, in my opinion. Finally, the Celtic-flavoured instrumental The Travellers is included at the end on some releases not on others. Among the bonus material on the “deluxe edition” is a typical old-style Big Country rocker in When A Drum Beats and another solid one in Age Of Man. Both are worth checking out. Pictured above is Melrose. Scottish Borders