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Big Country never got the recognition they deserved, especially by the music press. That is not just my opinion, it is something that has always been said by the many fans worldwide who enjoyed their music.
I say enjoyed, because sadly the frontman and founder of this great band, the hugely talented guitarist/singer/songwriter Stuart Adamson (formerly of the Skids), sadly took his own life after battling with drink and inner demons back in 2001.
Although the band have carried on over recent years as both a band and with separate projects, some of which have been pretty good, Big Country died along with Stuart. His unique style, guitar-playing and songwriting were irreplacable.
Stuart Adamson - guitars, vocals
Bruce Watson - guitar
Tony Butler - bass, backing vocals
Mark Brzezicki - drums, percussion
Steeltown was Big Country's second album, released in 1984. To follow up the success of their debut album 'The Crossing' was never going to be easy, but the band yet again produced another great album, which these days has often seen fans stating it was their best album.
I love all Big Country's albums and do not have a personal favourite as like them all equally for different reasons.
Stuart Adamson got the inspiration for the songs for this album from his childhood , watching people whose traditions denied them any show of emotion. Many of his words here refer to his working class background, of industry lost and workers demoralised in Thatcher's Britain.
Stuart himself said the songs on this album grew out of these people : 'The alienated, the dispossessed, the exploited, the abused, the people we pass by, the people we are. The songs are very dark and dense, they come from hard times and fearful places'.
The album from Stuart's perspective was his home movie, where he was from, and who he was - just a normal guy, from a working class background in Dunfermline.
The tracks :
1. FLAME OF THE WEST :-
A rousing opening track which Stuart wrote to express his annoyance when the UK bought nuclear weapons from the US, and Ronald Reagan held power over the world, which Stuart felt could be dangerous for us all. A thought-provoking track, with powerful lyrics, which I think told it like it was back in 1984.
" It's just how it's always been, one man with a ruling dream
And everyone falls for him, heroines in an ancient film
Look out for that stranger, if you pass him on your way
He never sees a danger in the darkening of the day
There will be dollars in his hand, he has all hell to pay
And he will pass them to you, if you promise you will stay."
2. EAST OF EDEN :-
Another strong track. I particularly like the guitar intro. It was released as a single and charted at 17 in the UK singles chart. Stuart's lyrics throughout this album were amazing, and my favourite line from this song is :-
"Some days will stay a thousand years, some pass like the flash of a spark,
Who knows where all our days go?"
3. STEELTOWN :-
I love the intro to this track which is a steady drum beat and bass, which builds and builds, then Stuart's guitar comes in. It always makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, as I remember seeing the band perform this live at Newcastle City Hall. Another strong track telling of the loss of industry.
" We set the flame and it burned so blue
With open eyes I watched it grow
A sea of palms in an ocean of snow
Hands with the courage to start anew."
4. WHERE THE ROSE IS SOWN :-
Released as a single and reaching 29 in the UK chart, this tells of war and loss, and the men who went to fight. Stirring guitar work combined with strong rhythm section.
"Sons of men who stand like Gods
We give life to feed the cause
And run to ground our heathen foe
Our name will never die, this time will be forever."
5. COME BACK TO ME :-
The album slows down for a moment here with this moving slow ballad, which Stuart often perfromed solo and acoustically when on tour. It is wrote from the perspective of a woman who is pregnant and loses her man when he goes away to fight. An emotional track.
" As the years hang on me, you will always be young
And one day I will lie down, where the rose was flung."
6. TALL SHIPS GO :-
The album picks up pace again here with this loud track which gallops along with rousing guitar and drums.
" I hear your voice and it keeps me from sleeping
Why must it always be dreams when your voice comes to me."
7. GIRL WITH GREY EYES :-
The second of only two slow tracks on the album. Stuart demonstrates his romantic side in this touching touching love song.
" I feel your skin so warm beside me
And I can hide me in your dreaming."
8. RAIN DANCE :-
A catchy song with both jangly and slide guitar. I would describe it as a feel-good song.
" We are not dust, we are not stone, just the wild seed is sown
No one knows how we bring it home, we only take what we have grown."
9. THE GREAT DIVIDE :-
Probably my least favourite track on the album, but it still a good track, and I do not think there are any 'weak' tracks on here. A song of industry with strong drums, especially on the chorus, where it puts me in mind of a marching band.
" I know my machine, I sweat and steam, until the job card colours."
10. JUST A SHADOW :-
This is my favourite track on the album, and also one of my favourite Big Country tracks altogether. Brilliant lyrics, and some excellent guitar from Stuart. This song is to the Steeltown album, what 'Chance' was to their debut album 'The Crossing'. An anthem, which does not fail to move you both lyrically and musically. It was released as a single and reached 26 in the UK chart.
" It's just a shadow of the man you should be
Like a garden in a forest that the world will never see."
There are no weak tracks on Steeltown , and it remains a brilliant album which reflected the hard times of the early 80's.
The stand-out tracks for me are Just A Shadow and Steeltown.
Big Country have a massive fan base to this day, but they never received the recognition they deserved. They did have higher chart success with other singles from their other albums, but nowhere near what they deserved in my opinion.
I saw them live four times at sell-out gigs here in Newcastle and they were nothing short of amazing!
Just a trivial fact to point out to anyone who can recall the recent Virgin Atlantic advert, which was commerating the 25th anniversary of their first flight to America in June 1984. This album was featured on the advert, as it showed a man looking at it in a Virgin record shop.
A brilliant second album from my all-time favourite band, Big Country.
R.I.P. Stuart Adamson.
Steeltown is available to buy from Amazon. It has been re-mastered and available with 5 bonus tracks - Bass Dance, Belief In the Small Man, Prairie Rose, Wonderland and Winter Sky.
Disc #1 Tracklisting
1 Flame Of The West
2 East Of Eden
4 Where The Rose Is Sown
5 Come Back To Me
6 Tall Ships Go
7 Girl With Grey Eyes
9 Great Divide
10 Just A Shadow