29 February 2008

'The Crossing'

I remember first getting the full album The Crossing on my 14th birthday from Sean Wheeler. Or rather, he gave me $10US to get the album. Months earlier we had both procured his brother's LP but eventually had to give it back. Here were four talented musicians--featuring a rhythm section that was favoured by the likes of Pete Townshend and many others, an ex-member of the seminal Scottish punk band The Skids, and a guitar wunderkind--who wrote and performed unconventional and lush compositions about landscapes and adventure tales in a time when pop music was all about androgyny and power ballads. The album was brilliant, full of amazing epics (The Storm, Porrohman), Scottish melodrama (Chance), and blazing guitars-as-bagpipes, also known as the E-Bow (Fields Of Fire, 1,000 Stars). Also here is one of my all time favourite Big Country tracks, Close Action. Shortly after The Crossing was released, they also released a 4-song EP called Wonderland, and it was every bit as brilliant as the previous album. Wonderland, All Fall Together, Angle Park, and The Crossing. Of course they continued with their plaid and be-sweatered, spiky haired image but the music and lyrics were timeless. No one since dear Robbie Burns wrote with such scenic Highland eloquence. And this all reached it's peak with Stuart Adamson's (may he rest in peace) lyrics to The Crossing, the 7:10 long finale of The Crossing/Wonderland period:

Maps on the back of your hands point to the cross
Scratches on walls in a room draw out your loss
Your islands are conquered and you are returned to the throne
Martyrs take penance and fill up the mattress with stones

Pull straws with holy men, stain all the atlas pink
And let us find a beach where we can cross our hearts

Stand in the wind as the carousels spin, wear out your welcome again
Stand in the silence of mountains and wear out your welcome again

Mornings hit hard with an uncontrollable light
Piercing the senses that click deep in the night
Crouched in a pillow of straw feet on the floor
Creeping a path to the mat that holds back the door

Stand in the wind as the carousels spin, wear out your welcome again
Stand in the silence of mountains and wear out your welcome again

Build up great railways that run through the horns of the moon
Hold up a city with cast-iron museum walls
Explain your machines to the boys feed them with tools
Bring out the skill in your skin polish your hair

Stand in the wind as the carousels spin, wear out your welcome again
Stand in the silence of mountains and wear out your welcome again

Stand in the wind as the carousels spin, wear out your welcome again
Stand on the silence of mountains and take your rib down to the sea...


The following year would see the release of Steeltown which closed with the amazing Just A Shadow, the first of my personal 'New Years Songs':

Just A Shadow

1986 saw the release of The Seer, which was truly the last Big Country album that had that 'Big Country' sound. As did most of the artists of the 1980s, they fell into the trap of over-production and traded in their soaring uniqueness for a too polished sound. It was a great half-album with the rest being just OK. Unfortunately, the rest of the story concludes with Stuart Adamson's disappearing act that resulted in his untimely demise by his own hand alone in a hotel room in Honolulu just before Christmas 2001.

They were amazing at a time when no one would even dare to sound or write the way they did. And no one has even come close since. To this day I still wear my plaid shirts and penny loafers with Scottish pride.

-N.
29.02.2008

Big Country - The Crossing

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