Big Country - Why The Long Face - 4CD boxset reviewed

Big Country  Why The Long Face 4CD boxset (Cherry Red Records)
Big Country Why The Long Face 4CD boxset (Cherry Red Records)

Here's a long-overdue re-release at last for the Scottish rockers’ seventh studio album, which is a bit of a forgotten gem.

Originally released in 1995, it fared badly in the charts, peaking at No.48 - a far cry from their 1980s heyday, when they enjoyed four Top 10 albums and a string of hit singles.

Listened to again with fresh ears, it's not a bad album at all, and picks up where 1993’s Top 25 hit the Buffalo Skinners left off.

The ‘bagpipe guitars’ of their early days are a distant memory as they opt for a heavier sound – for me, much closer to how Big Country sounded live.

The classic line-up of Stuart Adamson, Bruce Watson, Tony Butler and Mark Brzezicki is restored, after the drummer had a spell apart from the band.

But the inescapable conclusion is that while the band had tried to evolve their sound, music had also moved on, with Britpop in the ascendancy in the UK and grunge in the US.

The singles, I’m Not Ashamed and You Dreamer, are the equal of most of their more celebrated back catalogue, but made little impact, reaching No 69 and No 68 respectively in the UK charts.

Other songs like Wildland In My Heart and Far From Me To You are hidden gems, and Charlotte (“another slice of chocolate cake, helps to ease the pain”) is a break-up song which showed guitar heroes Adamson and Watson were well in touch with their feminine side.

Disc two is a collection of 17 bonus tracks, comprising single edits, non-album B-sides, alternate versions of songs, and some well-chosen covers – Alice Cooper’s I’m Eighteen, Lou Reed’s Vicious and Willie Nelson's On The Road Again.

Eclectic, a live acoustic album released in 1996, and long out of print, is the third disc, and it shows Big Country in playful mood at London venue Dingwalls earlier that year.

They mix fan favourites like Where The Rose Is Sown and King Of Emotion with classic covers – Joni Mitchell’s Big Yellow Taxi, The Beatles’ Eleanor Rigby, Bruce Springsteen’s I‘m On Fire and The Rolling Stones’ Ruby Tuesday.

The five bonus tracks include more covers – Alice Cooper’s Teenage Lament, Creedence Clearwater Revival’s Down On The Corner and Neil Young’s Hey Hey My My, and show a band not afraid to wear their influences on their sleeve.

The last disc is Why The Long Face demos, which were previously available as part of the now-rare Rarities series released in the ‘00s afterAdamson’s tragic death. They're interesting, if only to see how the songs ended up on in their finished versions.

Long-time fans might have most of the tracks included here, but for anyone who cast Big Country aside after their commercial peak, this Cherry Red Records re-release is a must-have. 8/10.