The career of the Psychedelic Furs followed a predictable pattern: two striking albums, two okay albums, two tremendously dull albums, breakup. What's surprising is that Richard Butler, the Furs' ex-leader now fronting a combo called Love Spit Love, agrees with this characterization.
"By the time we got to the Midnight to Midnight album [released in 1987], I realized, `I hate this band and I don't want to be in it anymore,'" he says. "I suddenly discovered, `I don't like this, I think it's terrible. I want to get out.'"
In Butler's telling of the tale, he and his bandmates, who over the years had developed a robust antipathy for each other, subsequently went to their label, Columbia, and explained that they wanted to go their separate ways. Instead, they were convinced to stick it out for at least one more disc. Change directions if you like, they were told, and perhaps you'll discover that your dissatisfaction was with the music rather than with each other.
"So we made [1989's] Book of Days, which was totally uncommercial," Butler explains. "We took it to the record company and told them to do whatever they wanted with it. They said okay, and it was never heard from again."
The Furs limped on until 1991, when the remaining players officially cashed it in. By then the reputation of the group--once seen as a collection of inspired new-music auteurs--had been thoroughly discredited. A more youthful generation remembered Butler, if at all, as a flamboyant, arm-twirling narcissist, and the band as a bored live ensemble whose hit singles dripped with trendy ennui. When informed that a recent article about Love Spit Love described the Furs as a "synth-pop band," Butler unleashes a hearty laugh. Still, he understands how the misperception might have occurred. Referring to one of the Furs' signature songs, he says, "Perhaps that person only heard `The Ghost in You.'"
Clearly, the synth-pop tag could not be applied to the first pair of Furs releases. 1980's Psychedelic Furs was more an enjoyably chaotic mass of noise than it was a collection of songs: "We had so many people in the band at that point, and everybody wanted to play," Butler notes. "We would do over-dubs, and if anybody had another idea for a part, they would play it. That's why it ended up so incredibly dense." The following year's Talk Talk Talk, produced by Steve Lillywhite, was a more accessible offering that used a huge drum sound to anchor twisted eroticism such as "Into You Like a Train."
The sales figures racked up by the first two albums were predictably modest, but the Todd Rundgren-helmed Forever Now and 1984's Mirror Moves, overseen by Keith Forsey, caught the public's fancy by subtracting some of the band's weirdness. "It began as experimentation," Butler claims, "but that direction soon began to dominate. And that's when I began to grow dissatisfied."
In spite of Butler's suggestions to the contrary, Love Spit Love isn't a total departure from his previous group. In fact, Richard's brother Tim, who played bass with the Furs, is a part of LSL; he's joined by drummer Frank Ferrer and guitarist Richard Fortus, who left his former act, Pale Devine, around the same time that the Furs were flying apart. The quartet's self-titled debut album, released on the Imago imprint, has a tougher sound than the last few Pychedelic Furs recordings, thanks to the production help of Dave Jerden, whose work with Jane's Addiction and Alice in Chains had impressed Butler. Nevertheless, the mix focuses on Butler's voice, a raspy instrument that's all but impossible to disguise. "I've tried singing in falsetto a few times, but no one's fooled," Butler jests.
A few of the songs on Love Spit Love, inclu-ding "Seventeen" and "Change in the Weather," improve on the latter-day Furs' material, but other songs are quite similar to the band's mid-Eighties oeuvre. In fact, "Am I Wrong," the first single (and the song that's earning airplay at modern-rock stations around the country), sounds more like the Furs than the Furs ever did. "We let the record company pick the singles," Butler insists. "If I'd had my druthers, I would have chosen `Jigsaw'"--a quirky, carnivalesque tune that's the album's best number.
Starting a new band after more than a decade in a successful group has meant that Butler's had to go back to square one; on this tour, Love Spit Love is playing small venues, and the group's members are often staying in motor inns rather than comfy hotels. But Butler's not complaining. "I suppose I could have come out with a solo project, but I feel more comfortable as part of a band," he says. "I feel like I'm more of a team player. And this is a team I want to be on."
Love Spit Love, with Gigolo Aunts. 9 p.m. Wednesday, October 5, Mercury Cafe, 2199 California Street, $8, 294-9281 or 290-
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