In the late Seventies and early Eighties, an exciting wave of independence empowered intelligent young men and women of the United Kingdom to branch out and make music and art on their own, independently. Glasgow was no exception; a small but revered scene soon arose thanks in no small part to the brief but highly influential Postcard Records, who wore its motto on its releases: “The Sound Of Young Scotland.” No better band embodies the zeitgeist than Friends Again, a quintet of young men who shone briefly before moving on to greater things. Their brief career has been encapsulated with two new releases; In The Beginning (Firestation Records) documents their formative years, while an expanded reissue of their sole album, Trapped & Unwrapped (Cherry Red) presents the band’s major label output for a new generation.
In The Beginning captures the young band’s earliest recordings. Though brief—six early recordings, a live track, and demos of two songs that would appear on their debut—it does show the young band’s promise.The young Friends Again sound somewhat typical of the Glaswegian indie pop scene, and would have been right at home on Postcard Records. The biggest influence on the young band, however, is David Bowie. Lead singer Chris Thomson not only sounds like Bowie, but he’s also playing up the similarities. Doing so unfortunately weighs down “Heartbreak” and “A Choir Holy,” neither of which would survive beyond the demo tape. The cover of Lou Reed’s “Sweet Jane” is nice enough, but not essential. “Cavalry,” the lone live recording, shows the band had a good live presence.
The band’s early promise unsurprisingly resulted in a major record deal, and the group signed to Mercury. The band’s early sound had been indebted to a raw, jangly VU-inspired sound not unlike contemporaries Aztec Camera. Yet Trapped & Unwrapped, their major label debut, offered a sound far removed from their salad day. The arrangements are lush, and the jangly guitars polished shiny and slick. Furthermore, the production suits Thomson’s Bowie-like vocal tendencies, so when it does appear, he sounds great. If anything, Trapped & Unwrapped found Friends Again reborn as a blue-eyed soul group with sophisti-pop leanings.
Though it sounds far removed from their original style, the upgrade served them well. Trapped & Unwrapped is an album chockablock with potential hits, nearly every one single-worthy. Singles “Sunkissed” and “State Of Art” positively glisten with catchy pop sheen, complete with call-and-response backing vocal that only add to the catchiness. It isn’t surprising that they were minor hits. Thomson also had a way with a ballad, as illustrated by the fine “Tomboy” and “South Of Love.” They could get weird like Bowie, as heard on “Moon 3 Has Gone,” and for those missing the early years jangle, it’s to be found on album opener “Lucky Star,” almost as a reassurance that this was indeed the same band from just two years prior.
The bonus material here is equally top-notch. A handful of remixes might seem repetitive in content, these numbers highlight the more muted jazz and pop elements. The b-sides are equally enjoyable as well. “Wand You Wave” offers surf-minded instrumental number that’s as catchy as the vocal tracks, while “Birds Of Paradise” shows an untapped knack for rockabilly. “Caller” and “A Reader Decides,” two demos, show that the well was not dry for quality material.
Unfortunately, Friends Again never got the chance to prove themselves. Guitarist and co-founder James Grant felt the desire to do something new; the band imploded before the release of Trapped & Unwrapped, assuring it received no promotion. Though the Friends Again story ended abruptly, the former members soon went on to bigger and better things. Thomson formed The Bathers, while Grant and other members of Friends Again formed Love And Money. Both bands would achieve critical and modest commercial success. Friends Again’s story might be brief, but these releases show they left behind a fine legacy.
Purchase: In The Beginning / Trapped And Unwrapped