Big Country: Steeltown (1984)

[Kronomyth 2.0]
The best-laid tracks of mice and men.

Big Country’s second album turned out to be stronger than the first; by mid-album (“Come Back To Me”) it’ll give you chills. This is relentless, romantic, self-righteous rock and roll, just the sort of stuff from which legends are made. Or not. The album topped the UK charts, but Steeltown failed to produce a US single of the first’s magnitude (“In A Big Country”) and they were labeled here a one-hit wonder. Their sound is idiosyncratic, with the e-bows and impassioned vocals suggesting an ethnic U2, but after a few listens the songs of Steeltown reveal themselves: “Girl With Grey Eyes,” “East of Eden,” “Where The Rose Is Sown.” Sometimes an album is so strong that it can forge a lifetime of fealty, and Steeltown is that album for me. As much as I liked “In A Big Country” and their first record, it’s here that Stuart Adamson’s genius shines. Steve Lillywhite’s production is more sophisticated, the sounds richer, the material as principled as poetry of a high order. I always hear a theme on this album, like an English Steinbeck novel about a working-class people duped by the movers and shakers into a war they didn’t want. That theme falls apart some on the second side, but the music still stands tall. It’s clearly a fussed-over album with flawless arrangements, dazzling guitar textures and seamless shifts from verse to chorus. If I were making a shortlist of the best albums from 1984, Steeltown would be near the top (so would Echo’s Ocean Rain). Sadly, our heroes arrived in time for the brave new world and we let them slip away. The world needed more strong, brave voices like Big Country then as now, so if you missed Steeltown the first time, it’s worth revisiting.

Original LP Version
A1. Flame of the West (4:57)
A2. East of Eden (4:20)
A3. Steeltown (4:35)
A4. Where The Rose Is Sown (4:55)
A5. Come Back To Me (4:43)
B1. Tall Ships Go (4:35)
B2. Girl With Grey Eyes (4:47)
B3. Rain Dance (4:19)
B4. The Great Divide (4:50)
B5. Just A Shadow (5:35)

All words by Stuart Adamson. All music by Stuart Adamson, Mark Brzezicki, Tony Butler and Bruce Watson.

CD reissue bonus tracks
11. Bass Dance
12. Belief In The Small Man
13. Prairie Rose
14. Wonderland
15. Winter Sky

The Players
Stuart Adamson (vocals, guitar & e-bow), Mark Brzezicki (drums & percussion), Tony Butler (vocals & bass), Bruce Watson (guitar, e-bow & mandolin). Produced by Steve Lillywhite; engineered by Will Gosling.

The Pictures
Sleeve design by J.B. Photography by Brian Aris.

The Plastic
Released on elpee and cassette on October 1, 1984 in the UK (Mercury, MERH/MERHC 49), the US and the Netherlands (Mercury, 822 831), Canada (Vertigo, VOG-1-3343) and Japan (Mercury, 25PP-141) with lyrics innersleeve; reached #1 on the UK charts and #70 on the US charts. Regional versions feature gatefold cover.

  1. Re-issued on compact disc in 1986 in the UK (Mercury, 822 831).
  2. Re-issued on compact disc and cassette in 1994 in the UK (Spectrum, 550 044).
  3. Re-released on expanded, remastered compact disc on April 15, 1996 in Germany (Polygram, 532 234) with 5 bonus tracks.

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