The suicide death of Big Country leader Stuart Adamson late last year was sad enough. But the fact that so many pop music fans had no idea who the guy even was made the whole sordid affair (his disappearance from Nashville last fall where he was recording, and the subsequent discovery of his body in a Hawaii hotel room) even more pathetic.
There was a time, some will remember, when Adamson was running neck and neck with Bono for the unofficial title of Top Euro Anthem-Rock Frontman. There was a time when Big Country seemed to hold almost limitless potential -- and had the press and public completely enamored with its kick-ass, melodic rock. That time was 1983, when this unassuming little band blazed out of Scotland with its ringing, bagpipe-like guitars and potent songs, taking the music world by storm. Rolling Stone's Kurt Loder led the charge in his review of the band's debut The Crossing, declaring that the group "blows the knobs off all the synth-pop diddlers and fake-funk frauds . . . cluttering up the charts."
At the time it hit the airwaves, Big Country was immediately compared to fellow up-and-comers U2 -- with whom they shared guitar-loving producer Steve Lillywhite -- for its musical passion, Celtic-inspired arrangements and anti-synth stance.
Big Country scored on the U.S. charts big-time with its now-reissued debut The Crossing, which yielded the Top 20 hit, "In a Big Country". But, despite the fact that the group was still intact and recording at the time of Adamson's death last year, Big Country's fortunes slipped miserably starting with their second album, Steeltown, which couldn't come close to the incredible punch of The Crossing.
OK, so Big Country couldn't live up to its initial promise -- it's initial masterpiece, as it were -- so why not remind the world of just how great (for however short a time) this band was? That just what Universal Records has done with the digitally re-mastered (and expanded) version of The Crossing. The CD features all the tracks from the original recording, along with the long out-of-print U.S. version of the band's 1984 five-song EP, Wonderland.
Hearing The Crossing now, it's easy to understand why the album was so tremendously appealing nearly 20 years ago -- its twin-guitar fury, courtesy of Adamson and Bruce Watson, is like a sonic blast of air amid the icy, stylized techno-pop of that era. From the opening line of "In a Big Country" -- "Come up screaming" -- the band plays and sings with a palatable hunger. Adamson, after all, came from a punk-rock background (with the Skids); hence there is a raggedness that helps counter-balance the album's overly earnest lyrics. Tracks like "Fields of Fire" and the grand, dramatic "Harvest Home" are relentless in both their lyrical and sonic potency.
The Crossing went gold in the U.S. and earned Big Country a couple of well-deserved Grammy nominations for Record of the Year and Best New Artist. It was undoubtedly the high watermark of this band's career, and The Crossing is a worthy addition to any rock fan's collection. Listening to the confident, energetic vibe throughout this record, one can't help but ponder what demons made it impossible for Adamson to no longer "see the sun in wintertime", as he sings here.