Good, Bad, and Better Days
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. Im 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 youre 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
I think the whole revival things kind of silly. I think its
interesting, given the benefit of a little time, to re-examine music, but I dont
like the idea of it being a revival because it isnt a revival. Nobodys
really doing anything differentÉIm having a good time now and I think
what Im doing now is more important.
However, marketing ones 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 werent 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 arent 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 Ill 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. Ive been doing a lot of painting these days,
he explains. I had four shows last year - solo shows.
cover painting and other works can be viewed at www.casola.com