Monday, 8 August 2016
"The Searchers" (1979/1980)
Hearts In Her Eyes/Switchboard Susan/Feeling Fine/This Kind Of Love Affair/Lost In Your Eyes/It's Too Late/No Dancing/Coming From The Heart/Don't Hang On/Love's Gonna Be Strong
I doubt the bookies were carrying odds about when the sixth Searchers album would be coming out in 1965, but if they had and you'd said 'fifteen years after the last one!' you'd be sitting on a goldmine that would make even Donald Trump blush. Who knew, back when the band were led by drummer Chris Curtis and were pioneers of folk-rock, that their next release would see them riding the crest of another wave - new wave - with the band celebrated (at last!) by new-coming acts like Elvis Costello and Tom Petty (who even gets a song on this album) who adored their fast-paced adrenalin-fuelled but clean-cut pop. Who knew too that The Searchers were going to be labelmates with many of these new wave darlings, chosen specifically by Warner Brothers subsidiary Sire to work alongside such bands as Cyndi Lauper, Delta Rae and Risidual Kid. After fifteen hard years of heavy slog up and down the cabaret circuits of Western Europe The Searchers were finally given the lifeline they were looking for. The 1960s cool The Searchers epitomised was finally back in fashion (it should never have gone away!) and fans finally had a Searchers product in the shops that wasn't yet another '20 Golden Greats'. So this is going to be a madly happy clappy review at last, yes?
Err, no. Well, not exactly. You see this is an album that's both great and ghastly at the same time, with several contradictions across the record that mean it both wastes and makes the most of its opportunities at the same time. It's not that the album is bad or anything, it's just that it misses the mark, not adding much to the old Searchers sound or quite fully embracing the new. It's also near-impossible to find I'm afraid, which will give you some indication of how poorly this record clicked with the general public, That said, there's certainly a fondness out there amongst fans for the two albums made on Sire that isn't necessarily matched by the material. Go to the album directly from the old Searchers albums or compilations and it sounds slightly hollow, as if someone has taken the soul at the heart of the album out and just left the packaging. And that packaging is still curiously 1960s despite all the attempts to make up a 'contemporary' album, with a sound that would surprise most modern listeners when they learn it comes from 1979 and not 1969. Part of this album (and it's two sequels') problem is that it lacks a really strong identity. Though The Searchers were more known for their interpretations than their originality, it seems a shame that a band who'd gone seven years without recording anything and fourteen since their last full album can only manage two songs between three songwriters. Especially when those songs just sound like the other tracks on the album by outside songwriters rather than what The Searchers used to sound like. Rather than the start of a brave new world of albums you just had to buy, this album sounds like an echo of something people had long forgotten about without much of a memory about why it was worth celebrating in the first place. Ironically most new wave fans stayed away and preferred the old stuff: this album falls between the 1960s and 1980s stools and doesn't sound much like either.
That said, it's the core of the album that's at fault; some of the details are excellent. It's wonderful that this album exists at all - and after so long being ignored it's great to have The Searchers back at all in any form. In many ways supporting a rock and pop band who drop out of the charts is like cheering on a former premier league division football team who've fallen on hard times: you don't go to see them play a perfect match: you go partly to see if they can play their back into the top-spot of course, but there's also a sense of reality that what you're seeing is a memory of the old days with only flashes of their best past and you cheer anything that's even half-good, even if it pales to past glories. Seen in that way, you won't feel too cheated. Luckily there are lots of half-good things about this album and not too much bad. This album and its successor (named either 'Play For Today' or 'Love's Melodies' depending on which side of the Atlantic you lived at the time)
Amazingly this is the first album which features guitarist Mike Pender as the dominant force, with the vocalist who used to get nothing to do in the Tony Jackson days finally stepping out of the shadows to become the band's creative lynchpin. For some reason while The Searchers as a whole don't suit the 1980s hall of mirrors (which is so alien to their clean-cut piercing sound), Pender's voice really suits it, with the extra production effects giving extra dimensions and added roar to Pender's voice. John McNally's guitar is the only real link to the days of the old and the old boy has lost none of his skill, with the instrument even more central to the swing and motion of the album (though with a tad less echo it would have sounded better still). Frank Allen has really grown into his role in the band, adding the bass and harmony glue that keeps everyone together whilst being the driving force off-stage past the Chris Curtis era. 'New' drummer (as in 'he's only been there fifteen years') Billy Adamson is an under-rated talent too: more controlled than either Chris Curtis or John Blunt, he's the stable table the others can dance off across the album and it's a shame he didn't make more records with the band (he left The Searchers in 1998). Though the creativity can't match the days of old The Searchers are still pretty good judges of material, ignoring what most reunited bands would do (either write their own material, commission other songs to be specially made or nick songs that had just been hits for other people) in favour of doing what they used to be specialists in: seeking out rare and forgotten gems from the current age no one else is doing yet (The Searchers were the best band for covering rare B sides). In other words: this may be a lost opportunity, but it's a lost opportunity with a band who have so much talent they somehow come out unscathed anyway.
This album deserved to become the big seller The Searchers had always dreamed of (since 1964 anyway) and certainly there were far worse albums by recovering 1960s bands in the charts at the time. The reason this album sold abysmally, even worse than 'Take Me For What I'm Worth' in 1965, is more the fault of record label Sire than anything the band did. The Searchers were dogged with more bad luck than most and their time with this label is a catalogue of missed opportunities, rushed sessions and inadequate publicity. Even the band's biggest fans - and they still had many - didn't know it had come out until the band mentioned it in concert. Few people bought this album, even fewer people reviewed it and those that did missed the point entirely: most assumed The Searchers had reformed especially for the album, the way The Small Faces and Simon and Garfunkel had around this time and were trying to ape the new style that had just come in. But no: what's great about this sixth self-titled LP is that The Searchers did what they always did (or at least the poppier half of their repertoire they'd been leaning towards during the years post Tony Jackson and Chris Curtis); it's just a shame they didn't do a little bit more.
And yet in common with the contradictions inherent in the record Sire are also the biggest heroes of the project, firstly of course by having belief in The Searchers when no other record label had in so long and then by allowing them to do their thing without much interference. Other record labels (including RCA, who the band had just escaped) would have insisted on re-recordings of old hits, covers of tracks that were big in the charts at the time and big name superstar writers who'd probably never heard of the oldies act covering them. In the end the only big name star here is Tom Petty, who no doubt was pleased as punch that a band he so admired thought his songs were worthy enough of covering (and, typically Searchers, they pick an unreleased Petty song to record - Tom's version still hasn't been released yet though it appears on bootleg, with most music fans knowing 'Lost In Your Eyes' better from a later Jeff Healey cover in 1992). Sire left the band alone almost completely, which was great when they were making it - and a pain come the release date. To this day this album is a pain to track down, with even multiple re-issues disappearing overnight (your best bet is the 'Sire Recordings' anthology and even that's amongst the pricier AAA records on Amazon at the time of writing. Don't despair though: this album is out in some format every five years or so in the CD age. Which means we're due another go very soon, surely!)
I also have a sneaky suspicion that for some reason Sire thought they were getting The Byrds and settled for The Searchers as the next best thing (after all, The Byrds owed a lot to The Searchers, especially that ringing Rickenbacker sound). Both 60s bands were enjoying renaissances in this era as folk-rock, clean-cut guitars, harmonies and bands filled with characters all came back into fashion. The difference was basically that the ex-Byrds were all busy: Roger McGuinn was going solo and working with Bob Dylan, Chris Hillman formed The Desert Rose Band, David Crosby was in prison and Gene Clark and Michael Clarke were trying hard not to get sued by using every inventive use of The Byrds name they could get away with (and quite a few that, legally, they couldn't). The Searchers, of course, had stayed together through thick and (mostly) thin and enjoyed quite a different career since their heyday. I do wonder, though, if Sire didn't confuse the two acts rather more than they let on. I mean, just look at the original front cover which is full of model jets in various states of preparation preparing to take off which just screams 'Byrds'; by contrast the closest The Searchers got to taking off from planet Earth was getting needles and pins. On its own the cover is faintly impressive, though The Searchers rather ruin the illusion by each posing with a 'section' of the plane to prove that it really is a model and Sire didn't hire a Boing 747 just for the album artwork. But what has it got to do with this album? Nothing as far as I can see.
What Sire perhaps should have done is exploited this record's obsessions with 'hearts'. Now, you may have been taught in your biology lessons that all your heart is pump blood round your body but no: hearts can get broken, hearts can 'feel fine', hearts can be 'strong' and people can even get hearts in their eyes (with advice like that it's a wonder I ever passed biology). While hearts appear in a lot of song lyrics, it's apparent just how many times they appear on this album compared to normal (I haven't quite been through every lyric but, a single word in 'Needles and Pins' aside, the last time they played such a big role in a Searchers song was 'Since You Broke My Heart' way back on the first album from 1963). What's more the obsession with hearts will continue across the next two (the last two) Searchers albums where we'll get 'Murder In My Heart' 'Everything But A Heartbeat' and the rather graphic 'Love Lies Bleeding'. I wish I could tell you what all this meant, except I can't: the 'real' link across this album is that all these songs are love songs and that's just boring. Lots of albums are made up of just love songs. What's perhaps a little bit more unusual is just how young and teenagerish most of the love on this album happens to feel like for a band of The Searchers' age. Yes, you could argue that The Searchers were trying to appeal to the pop market, except they'd never appealed to a pop market quite like this before: of all the songs in The Searchers canon up to this lot only 'Goodnight Baby' (from 'Sounds Like Searchers' in 1964) sounds as if it features quite so fresh-faced a couple. And don't forget The Searchers were pretty young themselves in 1964. Though other reformed/recovering 1960s bands did this sort of thing on the tie-in single, no other now-middle-aged-band sounded quite so young across the entire record! And it's not as if The Searchers are trying to engage with a young person's idea of love in 1980: there's even a song about a switchboard operator for heaven's sake! (They even had mobile phones in the 1980s, after a degree - and a degree was what you needed to work them back then). No, what's odd about this album is how hard it tries to go purely for nostalgia and people's memories of the 1960s as an innocent time - while at the same time exploiting modern sounds and production values and often modern songwriters. In 1980 the 1960s were seen as cool and just far enough away to be re-assessed, for the first time since they ended really (At last! It took long enough...) It speaks volumes that a record like this, which is as plain and simple and sweet a record as you can have, spends so much time in teenage-hood and is released now, not during prog rock or punk-rock. Rather than try to sound contemporary or do what The Searchers always did, instead they make you feel nostalgic for their birthing period, rather than the sound the band came birth to, which is an unusual idea for an album and only half comes off.
What's even more of a pain is the fact that there two different versions of this album kicking around and if you're enough of a Searchers fan to spend the time and money needed to look out for one of them then you're surely the sort of Searchers fan to want to look out for them both. The 'original' version of this album (and the harder of the two to find) is the ten-track version listed here and released sometime in the Autumn of 1979 (nobody seems at all sure when), complete with a cover of Bob Dylan's 'Coming From The Heart' as track eight (between 'No Dancing' and 'Don't Hang On'). After the album sank without trace Sire had another go in March 1980, using the exact same cover but very different contents. This version is a twelve-track version using the same 'Searchers' title but now with three new songs (the new attempt at a hit single 'Love's Melody', 'Back To The War' and 'Silver') but this time Dylan's heart is around anymore (just to add to the confusion of collectors everywhere the sequel album 'A Play For Today' was also given a new makeover and re-named 'Love's Melodies' even though that track doesn't appear on the album!) As it happens all four of these 'extra' songs are amongst the best: the slow burning Dylan cover is pretty even with the shades of Las Vegas clubs, 'Love's Melody' is a catchy song that most naturally resembles the 'original' Tony Jackson era Searchers, 'Silver' is a sweet and sensitive ballad and 'Back To The War' is the single best thing the Searchers recorded post-RCA, a glorious reading of John Hiatt's equally glorious protest song. If the album had sounded more like this core quartet and less like the other nine songs it would have been an entirely stronger album and it's a shame the band didn't have time to create a whole album in early 1980 instead of just a mini-one. Luckily for our nerves (being a collector is hard work, isn't it?!) the 'Sire Sessions' disc contains all of these songs from multiple albums!
Overall, then, 'The Searchers' is a curious beast. Like many eponymous albums it's actually the least Searchers-sounding album of their entire eight record run, with little to nothing of their traditional harmonies, songwriting or themes. Instead there's only the guitar and Mike Pender's voice to remind you which band this is - and even then Pender only started singing during the second half of the band's record releases. The 'new' 1980s production jars with the predominantly 1960s themes and memories and you never come away with a feeling that The Searchers have found a formula that quite works (though the three 'extra' recordings made for release the second time round come closest). In a way this record is even more of a disappointment than the (largely unreleased) RCA material of 1972, which may have been patchy but at least featured the band honing their skills and stretching their sound in parts. The last time The Searchers were around at album length they sang 'Take Me For What I'm Worth', but the problem is it's hard to tell exactly what 'worth' is here and The Searchers are trying to be judged by 1980 new wave standards rather than keeping to their own sound. And yet in other ways, this album is a winner: it feels like this record should have sold a lot better than it did because it really taps into the 1980 consciousness nicely and it was reviewed very positively by reviewers who assumed The Searchers were a new act, not survivors of the Merseybeat era. There's a certain chirpy optimism that breezes through the whole album and even cuts through the typical 1980s production trademarks, making this album sound slightly more timeless than some other AAA 1980s albums I could mention. The band still sound great most of the time: the hardest working guitar in pop, Mike's sturdy lead vocals and some tip-top harmonies all clock up the extra 'bonus' points for detail, even where the songs and production often let this album down. The band are riding the crest of a wave which they deserved to ride after keeping the rage for all those years, even if it's new wave they're riding the crest of rather than their true natural sound. 'The Searchers' is a likeable album worth tracking down that deserved to do better, but it falls far short of what they could have done - and indeed had already managed in their 'first' career.
'Hearts In Her Eyes' is arguably the strongest song on the album - at least until the new songs that got added to the second version. It's a note-for-note copy of a mid-selling single by Surrey new wave band The Records, who sound remarkably like a Searchers/Byrds cross (and if anything their harmonies are tighter). Oddly The Records spend almost all their few songs talking about 'eyes' in the same way this period Searchers are obsessed with hearts... The song's a good fit, though and a strong choice as a first single from the album as it's the one track here that sounds vaguely like people's folk memories of what The Searchers kind of were with a contemporary twist. Actually the more you study this song the less it seems like a Searchers track: this is about a girl who plays the field and falls in love easily and only the surface. The hint, to some degree, is that she wants more than that and can never be satisfied, with the song's main hook a restless dancer that won't slow down or stop even when it's clearly feeling weary. Here the song turns on the key change which happens to coincide with the narrator's line 'my girls' smart, she won't give her...heart', but is she really that smart or is the narrator secretly frustrated, wishing she'd choose him and a deep love he's secretly holding for her? Generally speaking Searchers relationships are intense, whether it's the fuzzy feeling of 'Needles and Pins' or the alienation of 'He's Got No Love' but are we meant to feel the same thing here; equally none of The Searchers' songs had ever been quite so much through the eyes of a female character before (even 'Desdemona', the only Searchers song named after a girl, is more about what the 'boy' singing the song 'likes'). However where this song works as a Searchers track is the choppy and very 1960s chord progression which, when played on a ringing twelve-string, sound like the most natural fit in the world. Pender sings a gritty lead, though the band have clearly kept the song in the same key as the original and he's a touch high compared to normal. Oddly Frank keeps his mouth shut and we barely hear him, in direct contrast to the original where the whole point of the song is the free-flowing harmonies. The inventive drum pattern, caught somewhere between playful and desperate, may well be Billy Adamson's greatest moment in the band too. A success, even if a lot of that success comes from both the original source material which is copied to the letter and whoever the hero was in the Searchers camp who suggested they record this song. My money's on McNally, he had a good ear for a cover song...
'Switchboard Susan' follows the same formula, being a pretty contemporary (1979) single by new wave artist Nick Lowe ('borrowed' from lesser known new waver act Mickey Jupp) that sounds incredibly retro. There are a handful of AAA songs about switchboard operators out there, usually from the late 1960s and almost all comedy songs about mis-communication where the narrator rings up to ask a girl out and either accidentally or deliberately invites the operator out instead. By 1979 switchboards were almost entirely a thing of the past and so, largely, is this song's thwack-thwack-thwack swampy guitar riff which sounds more like something from the 1950s (or Shakin' Stevens - all his songs sound a bit like this one). Here the narrator has already fallen for Switchboard Susan before she even picks up the phone ('I fell in love with your ringing tone!') Though he lives many miles away, the narrator is lonely after a break-up and needs to talk to someone - unfortunately for Susan she's a captive audience and can't ignore the call. Though only a very simple silly song, more like 'Sweets For My Sweet' or 'Love Potion no 9' than any of the later deeper songs in The Searchers canon, there are some good lines in here including every possible telephone gag in the (phone) book. 'Engaged' rhymes with 'enraged', a 'long distance romancer' longs for an 'answer' while needing another 'chancer' and the narrator even gets in a quick innuendo with 'hey, babe, your number's great!' Oddly though they miss the obvious gag: Susan's a bit tied up at the moment to go out with the narrator. In fact we don't hear about poor Susan's side of things at all, so we don't know whether she's enjoying the attention, ringing for the police or can't get a word in edgeways. The Searchers choose to be less tongue-in-cheek than Nick Lowe, going for innocent bravado rather than cheeky send-up and Pender's almost grave delivery works well against the daftness of the backing. Again, though, most of the hard work came from the original arrangement (which The Searchers don't change too much, they just play a fair bit softer and - uncharacteristically - take the guitar part down in the mix quite a bit) and whoever picked the song.
'Feeling Fine' is a dear John letter from writer John David (formerly of The Airwaves, who had a hit with 'You Are The New Day' in 1978) but with added ringing guitars. Pender's narrator's been building up his courage to tell his girl he loves her, but gets the response 'I love you - but not in that way!' Pender angrily explodes 'What's that supposed to mean?!' And yet this isn't the sad song it could have been: the title isn't sarcastic at all but heartfelt, with the narrator feeling that at least he's got somewhere and he doesn't have to worry about speaking his feelings out loud anymore. You begin to wonder if the narrator is on drugs, actually, as he talks about sudden highs and adrenalin rushes and 'never feeling this good', which makes you wonder just what exactly he's taken beforehand to steady his nerves. Certainly his re-action seems way out of step with his intended girl's rather nonchalant response. Fittingly The Searchers' arrangement is almost psychedelic, with McNally's and Pender's guitars meshing in nicely together - although it's of a more generic psychedelic sound than anything The Searchers actually did for real during the summer of love (when they were either using big orchestras for soap operas or in a sentimental mood for teenagerdom themselves). The end result is like a lot of this record: it sounds good while it's playing, but there's so little going on under the surface that it is just like one big sugar rush where we used to get a big meal: enjoyable while it's there, forgettable once it's over. Better this than some unsuitable gormless new wave epic, though, while the band sing with gusto.
Mike, Frank and John between them wrote 'This Kind Of Love Affair', which ends up sounding like just about the most 'new wave' and least 1960s track on the album! Frank's bass and Billy's drums set up a nice inventive backbeat over which Mike and John's guitar weave in a very late-period Rolling Stones kind of way. The riff is a good one and the way it keeps darting out into both choruses and middle eights is like the inventive Searchers of old, especially when the latter is accompanied by the twist that the narrator has gone from enjoying the experience to becoming a helpless victim whose now obsessed. 'I give my love so easily!' cries Pender before the last repeat, but he's feeling no one: this time it's different. Twist aside though, it's the lyrics that disappoint though: the narrator feels a fire and wants to get to know his lover better. The chorus is especially disappointing, repeating the title nine times before adding '...I like at the end of each third one. More polished and, well, sexier than anything The Searchers had done before, like a lot of this album it manages to alternate between being genuinely impressive at stretching out into a new sound and rather clumsy ('Thrill me with your lips, take me even higher, like before!') It's the sort of track you're grateful the band tried once because the verses especially sound incredibly exciting with so much going on everywhere, but you're also quite sure that The Searchers career wouldn't have lasted anywhere near as long had they started off like this. Still this once this kind of love affair I like.
Tom Petty never released his own version of 'Lost In Your Eyes' which is a shame. Though not by any means the most talented Travelling Wilbury (well, he did have George Harrison and Bob Dylan in the same band) you sense his earnest gruff voice would have carried this rather over-dramatic song a bit better than The Searchers can. For some reason best known to the engineers Mike Pender's voice is smothered in echo and sounds a million miles in the distance on what's usually quite an intimate and sparse track (at least that's what Petty's demo and the best known cover by Mudcrutch both sound like). At last on this album we get a track with some substance: far from being a teenage song about crushes, this is a deep and dark track about the intensity of love. And one-sided love at that: for the narrator time stands still when he sees his beloved, 'hypnotized, paralysed' by the intensity of his feelings and recording everything in that environment where he first saw her because the moment meant so much to him. However for her part she's oblivious and hasn't noticed him at all. Much as the narrator protests that it's ok, that love 'doesn't have to mean a thing' and as many times as he tells us that it's no big deal we, the listeners, know it is. After all the narrator longs to stay there all day staring into her eyes, but would probably be arrested if he did that in reality so he sadly moves on, but this isn't some light love affair he's going to forget in the morning: this is a moment of his life that changed him forever. More believable are the words 'love isn't always easy, love isn't always kind'. This could have been the basis for a great track: especially as Mudcrutch's wasn't out yet and back in 1979 an unreleased Petty composition was big news. Unfortunately The Searchers rather fumble things here. It's not just the echo, which makes Pender's delivery sound artificial - the backing too sounds disconnected from us somehow, as if this is just another cheesy new wave pop song instead of the matter of life and death it really is. The Searchers were once the masters of offering intensity and contrasts in song: 'Sea Of Heartbreak' 'He's Got No Love' and several more pride themselves on trying to be light and fluffy while clearly connecting to us from the depths of despair. Sadly you don't feel that from this track whose odd mix and overtly 1980s trappings outstays it's welcome long before the narrator tears himself away from his wannabe lover. Not so much lost in her eyes as just plain lost.
Side two starts with a second John David song - even some Airwaves albums didn't feature that accolade. 'It's Too Late' was the album's second single (the only single in America, where for some reason 'Hearts In Her Eyes' wasn't considered commercial enough), even though it's probably the least catchiest thing on the album. Which is not to say it isn't catchy: like most of this album there are more hooks than a pair of curtains and more riffs than a Steve Martin comedy routine. But this is a different style of song that's actually quite boring during the verses and doesn't explode as it much in the snappier choruses. Pender's narrator is in a bad mood, feeling that his girl has let him down and he isn't in the mood to accept her apology, delivering the quick-stepping words through clear emotion. However we never find out quite what she did that was wrong - perhaps there isn't a reason with this song sounding much like a teenage strop, the 'negative' counterweight to this album's usually summery teenage pop. Unfortunately it doesn't sound like Pender quite connects with this song which requires anger and snappiness, though McNally comes alive with one of the greatest guitar solos in all of The Searchers' catalogue, never mind the limited 1980s lot. This song also sports perhaps the best use of period echo, synthesiser and production values to the point where few people hearing this on the radio without knowing the band name would have guessed they were 1960s survivors. Of course, to most sensible modern ears being so very 1980 is a worse crime than sounding pure mid-1960s, but if you ever wondered what The Searchers might have sounded like had the band all been fifteen years younger here's your best chance.
'The Searchers' is arguably the band's most danceworthy album: there might not be much going on up top but the beats are heavy and the playing is good so if you'd rather move to the music than be moved by the music this album is the one for you. So it's odd that the next track is titled 'No Dancing' and is perhaps the most energetic beat-driven of the whole record (there'll be a lot more of this sort of thing on sequel 'Love's Melodies'). The writer is Noel Brown, who disappeared after writing this track for The Searchers and a couple of songs for Graham Parker. It's not hard to see why: this song is a simple authority defiant statement as Pender threatens that the landlord will throw you out if you dance, so there. Of course the 'joke' is that the band are playing so loud and having so much fun (especially Pender's brief exuberant solo) that they can't do anything else. The Searchers play impressively well and hungrily for a band approaching their forties and cope admirably well with a song so unlike their usual style, with a gruff grungy guitar riff and lots of shouting rather than their usual ringing guitarwork and slick harmonies. However the song might well be the single most stupidest thing they've done since 'Tricky Dicky' back in 1963 and at least that song was fun in a naive charming sort of way: this one just seems pretty pointless somehow. As far as I can tell this is the one non-original on the album that was written specifically for the project and was never recorded by anybody else. Which makes you wonder whether Noel Brown actually paid any attention to who The Searchers were or just sent this song in to be cheeky.
By way of contrast 'Coming From The Heart' is almost a well known track, even though technically speaking writer Bob Dylan's original has never been officially released. As we were saying earlier, it really is as if Sire confused The Searchers with The Byrds by getting them to record one of the Bobmeisters leftovers and like the usual Byrd covers it's one of his better discarded ideas. The Searchers pull out the song's inherent musicality unusual for Dylan) without lingering for too long on how clichéd the words are and there's even a rousing chorus that sounds like the melody of 'Hey Jude' twinned with the words of 'The Long and Winding Road'. Despite the deeply sad and serious mood ('The road is long and it climbs and climbs when I think of love that I've left behind') it feels like an uptempo track the way The Searchers play it, with a heavy beat and an unexpected false ending where the song shifts from mournful gospel to uptempo R and B with Pender unleashing his inner preacher. In short it's a fine if not that deep song that many a band would have handled well. However, it doesn't sound much like a Searchers song: their switch from guitar rock to earnest piano ballads in the early 1970s never really suited them and they're too heavy-footed to really connect with this number. Once again it's the moment when the band attack the song with energy and gusto where it really takes off - and sadly that only accounts for the final thirty seconds or so, with the opening four being something of a slog. Still, this song is far from the worst on the album and deserved to be re-instated when Sire decided to re-release the album with a new running order. If only because it might have inspired The Byrds (who have a much better feel for this sort of thing) to record it on their brief 1990 reunion when they were looking for rare Bob songs to record: this number is right up their street.
'Don't Hang On' is the joker in the pack, delivered in best 1950s posing style by Frank Allen doing his best Elvis impression. Credited to him, John and Mike it's a fun groovy rocker that might not sound much like The Searchers again but suits them to a tee and reflects the nicely homed primitivism of their early records. In a series of tightly twisting chord changes and some urgent military style drumming (Billy Adamsons' second greatest drum part!) Frank urges his girlfriend to become his girl but it's alright if she doesn't, friends will be ok. Unfortunately the pair seem to be at odds, one coming on stronger when the other falls back, with the game of love turned into a dance that fair wears both partners out. Frank also compares love to a recipe that has to be just right, because if the pot boils over all he'll be left with his ashes and all he really wants is not to be alone anymore. Instead the lovers learn to compromise, to not to be too clingy or too distant with each other but to keep just the right distance between them, though this becomes increasingly hard to achieve as the song speeds up and threatens to spiral out of control. The Searchers' speed energy and discipline is impressive, with this the best performed track on a generally tight and energetic album and special praise going to Frank's eccentric vocal delivery. Shakin' Stevens would have had a lot of fun with this song, but it's way too good for him! Not deep or original enough to compare with the best in the Searchers canon by any means (who'd have guessed, after the stunning originality of 'Take Me For What I'm Worth', that the second best thing on the next Searchers album would be an Elvis parody?), but not all good music has to be deep or worthy. Great fun!
The album ends uncomfortably on 'Love's Gonna Be Strong', an uneasy return to new wave pop by songwriter Ronnie Thomas (once of the band Heavy Metal Kids who sound much like their name suggests, although in truth this song is more Lightweight Babies). Once again Mike gets the thankless task of trying to convey an unconvincing sentiment of earnest love and support over a clunky and forgettable melody-line, while the rest of the band get the more interesting bit - a genuinely catchy staccato riff ('You know that love's gonna ma-ake you stro-ong!') and a final use of those ringing twelve-string guitars. Everything's being played at such a speed though that even returning to a sort-of Searchers formula of old this doesn't sound like any Searchers track that's come before, played fast loose and wild with McNally almost chopping at the chords instead of his usual clean style. Had the main song been stronger this song of comfort could have been a strong closer, but it just feels so empty compared to what the band used to do and all the fast tempos and production techniques in the world can't make up for what's lacking in this composition as a song. It's a bit of a limp finale to be honest, the most forgettable song here.
At least 'The Searchers' has its moments, though, and even if around a third of it is unconvincing and forgettable while the rest is largely shallow there's definitely an aura around it that prevents it from being the usual 1960s-band-tries-to-go-1980s-and-falls-flat-on-their-faces routine we've seen so many times around. Unlike so many of their contemporaries The Searchers 'get' new wave: the short bursts of manic energy but performed in a tightly controlled style is right down their street and combines the signature sounds of the pre and post Tony Jackson Searchers. The band play with an impressive fire and attitude unusual in a band whose been around the block for so long and you can tell that The Searchers want this to work and are enjoying the chance to pursue their ambitions again with the intensity of old after years of playing to the chicken-in-a-basket crowd who barely notice what act is on. The band really wanted this to work and put in every effort they could in the studio; it's the choice of material that's a bit suspect and the lack of originals don't help (especially given that both 'This Kind Of Love Affair' and 'Don't Hang On' point to just how easily The Searchers could mould their old sound into the one currently in vogue). Sadly the lack of recording time and especially the lack of publicity killed any chance of this record becoming an overnight success and even with the biggest promotions team in the world a record this samey and repetitive (one ballad the whole album?) would have struggled to hit the big league. However AAA records deserve bonus marks for bravery and this record is brave indeed: The Searchers get all the hard bits right by proving that they can sound like all the band's they've so heavily influenced, that they can still play fast and tight and that they do have a future. It's just a shame that they couldn't find a couple of deeper, more impressive tracks to show off their talents as interpreters as well as popstars to give this album a sense of substance as well as style. The Searchers will learn from their mistakes, sort of, in time for their next album 'Love's Melodies', which is a less consistent but generally more suited album made in a similar vein. When this record works it works very well, but like new wave itself it's best heard in small doses - hearing the whole high adrenalin album in one go is heavy work. Maybe that's just me though: if new wave is your thing but you're also enough of a fan of the 1960s to seek out this site then search no more: 'The Searchers' may well be your new favourite record. Now it's just a case of searching for the flipping thing...
Bonus Reviews: two tracks from the re-issued album (I'm still trying to track down 'Silver'!)