The Scottish band Texas has been together for 20 years with only a slight retooling to their line-up. Their sound, however, has evolved from the country and blues influenced tunes of their first albums into full-blown, lush pop music. While they are a band, the vocal and visual identity of Texas is Sharleen Spiteri. But it is her collaboration with founder and bassist Johnny McElhone that produces the pop confections that have made them superstars in Europe.
Formed in 1986 by McElhone after Altered Images broke apart and his short stint with Hipsway, but not releasing their first album until 1989’s Southside, the band found some attention with their organic slide guitar leanings on “I Don’t Want a Lover” and “Everyday Now”. But over the years the band moved steadily towards luxurious synthesizer pop, reaching their high watermark with 1997’s White on Blonde: a perfect pop album with roots-rock and soul moments that keep it engaging from start to finish. Two years later they released The Hush, a super-slick, summery album.
After stumbling a bit with 2003’s disappointing Careful What You Wish For, Texas has returned with what amounts to a near-perfect blend of their strongest efforts. Red Book contains both the hits and heart-felt songwriting that defines their sophisticated adult-pop. The first single, “Getaway”, is the kind of flourishing, ringing song they found success with on their late ‘90s albums. Swirling guitars and synthesizers propel the song from its opening notes, giving way to Spiteri’s velvety, maturing vocals that are only improving with age. Keeping with the theme of most Texas songs, it tells the tale of a relationship beautifully falling apart. “Cry” is another typical Texas moment, sounding like it came right off of White on Blonde, both sonically and in sentiment.
The moments where they build off of their signature sounds and try something different are some of the finest on the album. “What About Us” takes Spiteri’s storytelling and pits it against a slow synthesizer line and a lazy beat. Keeping the focus on both Spiteri’s voice and words, your heart breaks when she asks, “What about you? / What about me? / What about love?” And “Get Down Tonight” finds Spiteri at her moody, sultry best. A dirty beat backs a tussled Spiteri telling her lover to “pull up beside me and lay me on the ground” and asking him to “come slip inside me.” On “Sleep”, Paul Buchanan from The Blue Nile duets with Spiteri as separated, misunderstood lovers begging, “Let me sleep, so I can dream of you / Let me sleep, so I can be with you.” While not necessarily the perfect partner for Spiteri because Buchanan sometimes overpowers her, it is good to hear a male voice on a Texas album that isn’t from the hip-hop world, as is often the case with their remixes.
A band whose b-sides (“Superwrong”, “Early Hours”, and “Like Lovers (Holding On)”) are often stronger than other artist’s a-sides, for whatever reason, Texas is getting some questionable press for being too “poppy” with Red Book, which completely confounds because they are one of the best pop bands around. And Red Book is a return to form for the Glaswegian group who briefly strayed with their previous effort.