If you were around at the time, you’ll be well aware of the story; Brit band takes the Americans on at their own game, records an album just as good if not better than the opposition, doesn’t quite get the support it deserves, fades into relative obscurity, revered by a small coterie of the cognoscenti whilst being forgotten by the music buying public in general. A sorry, but oft-repeated tale.
Such was the fate of Scotland’s Strangeways, who, despite the fact that they released Native Sons, one of the greatest ever British AOR albums in 1987, never truly got the kudos they deserved. Of course, cynics would say that they only touched the heights they did after co-opting the superb Terry Brock (an American vocalist usually seen adding his backing vocal skills to acts like Kansas and Jimmy Barnes), and there may be a kernel of truth in that accusation, but the fact remains that Native Sons is a near-peerless exposition of British AOR.
Revisiting the album now – Cherry Red offshoot HNE Recordings have reissued it as part of an excellent four-CD retrospective box set taking in the band’s 1985 self-titled debut, Native Sons, 1993’s Walk The Fire and And The Horse from 1994 – is akin to reigniting a burning love affair one thought long moribund; Everything still sounds as good as the day it first emerged, with standout cuts Dance With Somebody, the stupendous tear jerkers Only A Fool and Goodnight LA and the atmospheric Never Gonna Lose It all reeling back the years in splendid, goosebump-inducing fashion. Brock was undoubtedly the touchstone the band needed, and his superb voice lights the blue touchpaper in mercurial style any time it comes close to the lithe, Schonesque guitar playing of Ian J Stewart. But he can only sing the songs put in front of him, and, even thirty five years after the fact, it’s hard to think of a set of tracks written by a British act so utterly perfect as these. Aided by a superbly facilitative empathetic from John Punter that lets every instrument breathe – which is good because some of David Stewart‘s grindingly heavy bass work is superb and deserves to be heard amidst all the usual AOR bombast going on – every track reveals itself to be a real belter of it’s kind. If Native Sons had been released by Survivor or Journey at the time it would have been hailed as an album for the ages; that it isn’t does nobody any favours, but at least now the album is presented again for your undiluted listening pleasure, and I urge you to give it a spin.
The original album is augmented by some live tracks that I seem to remember originally featured as single b-sides at the time as well as some other mixes and edits unheard at the time of release. It’s a great of-it’s-time document of course, but the timeless brilliance of the songwriting means there are no sharp-intake-of-breath-induction-moments at any point; Native Sons is as relevant an AOR release today as it was in 1987, and if you haven’t heard it I urge you to get hold of this excellent box set (and don’t worry – there’s plenty to enjoy on the other three albums) as soon as possible. You’ll not regret it, I promise you!
Strangeways’ Complete Recordings Volume 1 1985-1994 is out now.