Pop culture has always been an amnesiac. Every up-and-coming band hyped as the next big thing turns out to be a blast from the past. Recently, Pat Benatar has been repackaged as Ashlee Simpson, while Read Yellow "channel" Fugazi, and the Ponys reinvent the CBGB's scene, circa 1975.
But with the crop of original '80s bands currently working on comebacks, these new kids on the block have some stiff competition: Devo and Blondie spent this summer on the road, while Duran Duran just put the finishing touches on a new album for EMI. Boxed retrospectives from Roxy Music and the Clash are about to hit record stores, and the Cure's latest is already in the bins. Meanwhile, Berlin, Frankie Goes To Hollywood, the English Beat, and A Flock of Seagulls have all succumbed to host Aamer Haleem on VH1's Bands Reunited. Now, the Psychedelic Furs are throwing their hat in the ring.
When bassist Tim Butler -- brother of the Furs' gravely voiced lead singer -- calls, it's just one day into the current leg of their tour. Already, more than a few things have gone wrong. The Furs missed their flight from New York to Tempe, Arizona, the day before. Guitarist John Ashton came down with a rash (poison ivy, Butler says helpfully). The weather in Tucson, where they're scheduled to perform in an amphitheater along with Berlin and fellow '80s alumni Missing Persons, is downright dismal. And it's Friday the 13th. Butler, however, couldn't be more upbeat.
"Hopefully, this will all be sorted out by the time we get to Memphis," he says. "Tonight, we're playing for 5,000 people -- in Tucson, of all places! Our fans seem to come out of the woodwork!"
It feels like déjà vu for the Psychedelic Furs, who were at the top of their game in the middle of the Reagan decade. Back then, frontman Richard Butler's sneering face loomed from the pages of the New Music Express nearly every week. In Memphis, new-wave kids had to trek to Tobacco Corner to score a copy, with "Love My Way" blasting from the cassette deck in mom's car.
Sounding like a cross between the Velvet Underground and Public Image Ltd., the Furs' intelligent lyrics and subtle musicianship was a delicious secret for young Brit-obsessed music fanatics until movie director John Hughes wrote a plot around their "Pretty In Pink" single, pushing the band to American stardom.
"If we'd just stuck in the direction we were going after Mirror Moves, we would've been fine," Butler says, remembering the hype surrounding the band after Pretty In Pink, a 1986 release starring Brat Packers Molly Ringwald and Andrew McCarthy.
"We were under pressure from the record company to come up with a similar hit," Butler admits. "We came out with Midnight To Midnight, which was such a glossy sounding album. We liked the success and the screaming fans, but halfway through that tour we thought, What are we doing? This is so fake! So we reexamined what we were all about, which wasn't the big hair or all those things! We came out with Book of Days afterward in an attempt to get back to our roots."
By 1992, the Psychedelic Furs were ready to call it a day. "Although we were tired of the whole tour/album/tour grind," Butler confesses, "we just wanted to take some time off. We never said, 'This is the final tour.' We decided to play again when we could do it on our own terms."
And, Butler adds, the band has a new CD in the works. "We're taking our time with it," he says. "Hopefully, we can lay it down at the end of the year. But we're not gonna come out with an album that's gonna topple Britney Spears or anything."
Nevertheless, fans can expect to hear some of the fresh material live. "Of course, we play all the hits -- 'Pretty In Pink,' 'Love My Way,' 'Heartbreak Beat.' Otherwise, people would complain," Butler says good-naturedly. "We also try to make it interesting for us with some obscurities and new stuff.
"People always put down the '80s, but there was a hell of a lotta good music made back then," he continues. "Our albums could come out tomorrow, and they'd still sound relevant. It's grown a bit stale now. Music isn't clicking with younger people. There's no Sex Pistols or Nirvana out there.
"It's a strange thing," he says. "Our crowd includes fans from 16 to 60. We get older people showing up with their children and kids. We even have people recording our shows with their cell phones. That's something we didn't see in the '80s!
"We're enjoying playing together again," Butler concludes. "Onstage, we tend to look at each other and smile. We've been doing this for 25 years, and we've still got something." n
The Psychedelic Furs perform at the New Daisy on Thursday, August 19th.