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Spotlights [Issue # 20 ]
Richard Butler: Good, Bad, and Better Days

By Lynne Bronstein

Richard Butler rose to fame as the vocalist for the Psychedelic Furs, one of the more memorable bands of the ‘80s British Wave. The Furs’ melodic but dark songs were enhanced by Butler’s distinctively raspy voice, described by one critic as “John Lydon without the sneer.” But while such hits such as “Love My Way” and “Pretty In Pink” are still played on ‘80s radio programs, Butler has been evolving into a different kind of performer and songwriter. His new self-titled album will come as a surprise to fans who expect new music in the Furs’ style. The eleven songs combine acoustic guitar with electronic sounds, creating an atmosphere that is otherworldly - the way folk music might sound on some distant planet. While the lyrics touch upon familiar landscapes of alienation and doom, they cut deeper than ever before, from the philosophical opener “Good Days Bad Days” to the closing track “Maybe Someday,” in which the veiled optimism of the title is tempered by the lyrical observation that we all “end up as dirt and dust again.”
Butler is unabashed about the dark overtones of these songs. “During the period of the record, my marriage dissolved,” he says. “That really informed the lyrics a lot. I’m not really a gloomy person but when I write songs, they tend to be very melancholic. A lot of the record is about [the question] does love really mean anything?
“My father dying was also thrown into the mix. Your parents, in an odd way, stand between you and your own demise. You feel like a duck at the fairground - the thing that goes round that you shoot at - you see your parents flop down over the edge and you feel like you’re next.”
The loneliness that follows the breakup of a relationship is explored intensely in songs like “Satellite” and “Broken Aeroplanes.” Of the latter, Butler says: “That was comparing two people to a pair of broken airplanes on the runway - not going, wanting to go somewhere and not having the impetus to get up and change anything.”
Butler makes use of themes that have flavored his lyrics before, as words like heaven, stars, breath, and silence come up repeatedly. In “Last Monkey,” he sees himself as an experimental space voyager, like a monkey sent up in a capsule.
But despite the melancholy moods, Richard Butler is also an album of rich musical textures, thanks to the unusual ambient sound of the guitar-electronica mix. “My friend John Karin produced,” says Butler. “And he played all the instruments. [The songs] were all written on guitar and we put the synths in afterwards. In one case, we took the acoustic away.
“I wanted to do a record that was different and I wanted my voice to sound different too. I sing quite gently and quietly on a lot of the songs.”
Butler admits that most people associate his voice with the Psychedelic Furs and expect his music to sound like theirs. Since 2000, he has been performing with the Furs in concert and they have been working on material for a new Furs album and tour. But Butler is not enthusiastic about appearing under the umbrella of “’80s revival.”
“I think the whole revival thing’s kind of silly. I think it’s interesting, given the benefit of a little time, to re-examine music, but I don’t like the idea of it being a revival because it isn’t a revival. Nobody’s really doing anything differentÉI’m having a good time now and I think what I’m doing now is more important.”

However, marketing one’s new work while still being associated with a past musical era is not easy.

“When I was working on [the album] and I was talking with my manager about it, we were saying that we weren’t going to aim at radio because the amount of radio stations that will play it is so few.

“I just felt I wanted to do a grown-up record. There aren’t really many grown-up records being made [about] people going through grown-up things. I wanted to address people of my age group about my concerns - so I decided I’ll do a record for these people - for us people!”

One more grown-up thing longtime fans will see on Richard Butler is cover art by Butler himself. “I’ve been doing a lot of painting these days,” he explains. “I had four shows last year - solo shows.”

Butler’s cover painting and other works can be viewed at www.casola.com

Richard Butler

Good, Bad, and Better Days Richard Butler Richard Butler

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