The raspy voice of Richard Butler, the lead singer of The Psychedelic Furs, gave voice to Duckie’s sandpapered heart in the 1986 film “Pretty in Pink.” In fact, Butler’s voice and the band’s synthesized swagger provided the soundtrack of the ’80s for the drama undergone by hairspray-addled teens moping about Anytown, USA. The band captured those hormonally exaggerated emotions without being pretentious or melodramatic.
Made of Rain, The Psychedelic Furs’ first album in almost three decades, appears ready to score the rest of 2020, when, after months of sheltering in place and watching America wrestle with itself, our collective emotions again seem oversized and overwrought.
The album’s opener, “The Boy Who Invented Rock & Roll,” which the band has been playing live since at least last year, feels frenetic and harried. Strange synthesizer sounds transform themselves into a pummeling groove with a yawping melody produced by Mars Williams’ saxophone running through signal processing gear.
Butler’s voice sounds familiar within the futuristic sonic maelstrom as he delivers the album’s first lyrics with wonderfully British derision: “A flight of crows, my insect heart/ The ticking veins, the godless dark/ The druggy days, the pointless rain/ The letterbox thats full of pain.”
While the verses feel almost claustrophobic, the song’s chorus seems to transcend this anxiety. The music and vocals become uplifting and expansive as Butler sings the song’s title during the chorus.
This musical dynamic, in which the verses set up a feeling of drudgery only then for the choruses to transcend that bleakness, seems to animate most of the songs. The musical dynamics in these arrangements are sweeping, cinematic and ambitious. The result is a collection of songs that feel almost like their own little movies, complete with three-act structure, rising and falling tension, and palpable human emotion as evoked by Butler’s beautifully haggard croon.
“Wrong Train” evolves from bizarre keyboard noises to a driving rhythm propelled by heavy drumming and acoustic guitar. The verses are comprised of a series of admissions. Butler sings, “I took the wrong train/ Ate all the wrong pills/ I took a cell phone/ To call my voice mail.”
Together, Butler’s voice and the music sound disillusioned. Yet the song’s powerful chorus snaps the chains that bind the verses, as the music opens up and Butler delivers the chorus with the all the emotion that is conspicuously absent during the rest of the song. “And I’m never coming home again/ We can’t agree on anything/ And where the hell are all my friends/ I need you right now,” Butler sings triumphantly.
Musically, the chorus feels like that moment in “The Shawshank Redemption” when the movie’s main character, Andy Dufresne, emerges from the sewage pipe a free man in the midst of a powerful thunderstorm.
Not every song on the album uses the juxtaposition of toil and fulfillment. “Tiny Hands,” which doesn’t seem to be about Donald Trump, features cheerful, plinky harpsichord-like piano. “Come All Ye Faithful” grooves with programmed beats and slinky saxophone. “No One” gets its spooky mood from angular guitar and plodding bass that evoke comparison’s to goth British gloom-and-doomers Bauhaus.
Fans who’ve waited 29 years for a new album from The Psychedelic Furs will not be disappointed. Made of Rain is good enough to recruit some new fans and revitalize the band’s energy.
It’s sad when a good band returns after a long absence with an album that doesn’t capture any of the old magic, and instead feels like little more than a money grab by an aging group that needs to replenish their coffers. However, The Psychedelic Furs have made the rare return which seems to match the brilliance of their heyday. The band’s cinematic and evocative emotionality that scored the post-prom parking lot drama of Generation X seems perfectly positioned to accompany the rest of this dismal year when we shelter in drudgery waiting for a taste of the freedoms we’ve sacrificed.