If anyone remembers Furniture now, it’s for their brilliant single ‘Brilliant Mind.’ And yet they produced equally brilliant work in the two LPs they produced, both cruelly undervalued. Whilst the second LP, ‘food, sex and paranoia’, should be the title of my autobiography, their best realised record is ‘The Wrong People.’ The cover depicts a modernist take on the myth of Cupid and Psyche which suggests the subject matter of the LP is going to be about the vicissitudes of love. It could also be nodding obliquely to Scritti Politti who, the year before, had released ‘Cupid and Psyche 85.’
Tucked inside my copy of the LP, I discovered a press release from 5th November 1986 recommending five tracks, none of which is ‘Brilliant Mind,’ which suggests Rebecca of The Sunshine Plug Company either has cloth ears or the whole record is packed with wondrous music. Her first suggestion is the opening track ‘Shake Like Judy Says,’ which is a fine calling card as it encapsulates what makes Furniture songs so good. It opens with with an ominous organ note and a drum that replicates a heart beat before the vocals smoothly glide in and then, from gentle beginnings, the song builds in unexpected ways.After the first verse, the bass comes in and the song picks up momentum only for a mournful trumpet to enter the fray after the first chorus. The song constantly ebbs and flows until this tide builds to a swell at the end with Jim Irvin vowing to “cry myself to sleep.” Almost without a pause, the next track ‘Love Your Shoes’ kicks in, a song as near to straight pop as Furniture ever got, in that the tempo of the song is upbeat and remains at that pace throughout. Furniture aren’t arch-miserabilists but recognise light and shade which is why so many of their songs rise and fall, ebb and flow, but here that acknowledgement is left to the lyrics: “I know it’s going to rain on our party but/ We mustn’t let that get us down / We’re going to have the best time / The time of our worthless lives.” ‘Brilliant Mind’ follows and as a statement of intent it’s difficult to beat: “I am at the stage / Where everything I thought meant something / Seems so unappealing / I’m ready for the real thing / But nobody’s selling.” Indeed the song could stand as a metaphor for the band itself , a brilliant band, out of time, pouring their music out to a world where no-one was interested: “I am at the stage / Where I want my words heard / But no-one wants to listen.” On any other record, the following track would be an anti-climax but, if anything, “She Gets Out The Scrapbook” eclipses it. Whenever I hear it I am reminded of French chanson with lyrics that suggest the films of Eric Rohmer. It is a quite brilliantly constructed song both musically and lyrically with twists and turns throughout. The first lines suggests the inherent filmic quality: “You’re working for a family / I’m working for myself.” And so begins a song of passion and obsession: “Even when you’re making love to him / My shadow’s on your wall,” which culminates in memories and reminiscences as the woman looks at pictures in her scrapbook and her friends wonder, “Did we really live like this?” To the woman and her friends these are faded photos and faded memories but to the protagonist in the song the memories they stir are far more relevant: “Cause I won’t forget a single night we spent / And I won’t forget a single word of love we said.” The final song on side 1, ‘I Miss You’, is fairly orthodox for Furniture, a straightforward piano led ballad, albeit one with a beautiful melody, whilst lyrically it stands as an adjunct to the previous song.
I don’t think there are many better first sides to an LP than this one. Does side 2 match up? To be honest, not quite but it certainly tries hard. ‘Make Believe I’m Him’ is a quasi soul stomper with the protagonist telling his lover, “When we make love / You can make believe I’m him.” It should have been the third hit single after ‘Brilliant Mind’ and ‘Love Your Shoes.’ For me the next track, ‘Let Me Feel Your Pulse’, shows the first drop in quality on the whole LP. Whilst they pulled off the mock soul on the previous track, the attempt at a jazz vibe (complete with the lyric “Come on you cats / Let me feel your pulse”) is disappointing after the glories of what has come before. ‘The Sound of the Bell’ shows an improvement but still nothing to disturb side 1 and has a worrying and totally unnecessary jazz glockenspiel section shoved in the middle. ‘Escape Into My Arms’ returns to the terrain of the first side (“Well I know how it gets / When you’re certain you’re all alone”) although here its dressed up in keyboard and synth soundscapes. ‘Answer the Door’ is a lesser ‘Love Your Shoes’, similar tempo, lesser tune. Still good but not great. The final track, ‘Pierre’s Fight’ is the most extreme on the record and one which will divide fans. It is nothing like anything else on the record and starts with a piano that sounds as though it has been drafted in from prog rock group Renaissance (whom I love, incidentally, mainly for the purity of Annie Haslam’s vocals). The song is essentially a chanson about a man getting drunk at home after his lover has gone out on the town to pick someone up. The fight is both the one he wants to listen to on the radio and the internal fight he is having with himself to convince himself that he is going to fight to preserve the relationship. The fight for the listener is the mid section where it sounds as if someone has thrown the piano through the window and people in the street are treading over it (my 6 year old daughter’s comment which I’m thinking of putting on Amazon: “That’s giving me earache – its horrible.”). Let’s say it’s an acquired taste but one worth acquiring.
In summary side 2 good, side 1 great. As a whole, ‘The Wrong People’ is a stupendous debut record that should be mentioned in the same breath as the second Roxy Music (whose side 1 / side 2 dynamics are very similar). Whilst not perfect, even its flaws are interesting and point towards the diversity of the second, and final, LP. I’ve come to the conclusion that Rebecca had cloth ears after all – she recommends three tracks from Side 2 and only two from side 1 (although she does note that ‘I Miss You’ is “very slow and haunting” whilst ‘The Sound of the Bell’ “drops down to jazzy bit in the middle. Please check lyrics.”). With press officers like that, no wonder the band failed to attract the large audience they deserved.