We lay the night in anguish
Snakes drawn out by the tide
The compass of decision
Falls always on one side
The grainy black and white photograph on the sleeve depicts 4 young men . They are dressed in plaid shirts . From the outset the listener is treated to and glimpses a powerful evocative image. Like some flower in the desert at once we see the land, nature and a time of hope and ambition. It holds in store what is yet to come.
There is a stark beauty and longing in the photograph. In anticipation we are given an early clue to an album containing what is beyond sheer breathtaking heartfelt music, the likes of which have never before been expressed .The compass is indeed true and points to a landscape which defines this album and so proudly celebrates a nation. The thistle is our marker for the journey. The very music is to save all our souls.
I can not in simple terms with any real eloquence put forward my love , pride, belief and passion for this album. In times of need when the oppression of fortunes have weighed so much upon my mind i have listened again to the messages of hope set against such beautiful evocative distinctive music . It has no equal in my view. It speaks of a time of my youth and carries so much wisdom. Without doubt it was a time of pain and truth. The music has lived with me and always will.
As noted in part 1 this is the other album released in 1983 which set against the context then and even now makes no sense whatsoever. If U2′s war album was misunderstood by the lazy press and critics, the crossing was far beyond any notion of popular music which could be identified, categorised and more importantly explained. The crossing was more than a reaction to the music of the time. It was a clear nod to tradition at a time when values and hope meant very little. Like U2 Big country had a powerful message to share through its songs. History and tradition rather than religion is the underlying theme in this album used to incredible powerful effect.
That this album had such a profound effect on so many and yet received such limited analysis is truly shocking. The explanation, perhaps a paradox lies in the simple fact that this was not an album fashioned to appeal to the masses. It never courted the sound or feel of the time. It went far beyond that. It has no obvious reference for the listener. Whilst Stuart honed his sounds and style with the skids the crossing has a very different feel to the skids albums . A portrait of the landscape so rustic and pure.
That it lies at the heart of so many people’s conscious and love of music is really testament to the unique sound, imagery and lyrics which speak to the listener like no other. If there ever were lyrics to contemplate and explain inner thoughts and reflect traditional notions of love, pride and honesty we need look no further. The lyrics are of sheer beauty and passion. unrivalled.
In contrast to U2′s war album this is an album which at its core reflects a landscape. The notion of the land affecting people is beautifully portrayed and sung with such passion and pride. At once we might draw an analogy with great writers such as Thomas Hardy. All this from a band from 1983? Not what the press could ever seek to explain or indeed have any real insight into. This really is an album from 1983 which is near impossible to define in simple terms.
As with U2′ war album the crossing was explained away by the lazy critics and indeed by positive reviews as defined by its singles. Yet again that so misses the point of the album. Both albums share the same producer but at once we see a different production style here at play. There is at times less urgency and angst in the crossing but no less a flame that burns to light our way through the country. The singles do not in any way define this album. Nor could they. It is too rich a landscape .
It is vital the listener casts off the empty half hearted attempts by the press and critics to explain this album. This is not an album of anthems nor of simple twin guitars as we have been told. Neither should the listener simply accept that the guitars have a familiar sound. What should be understood and what becomes very clear is that the sound is so unique. It is impossible to categorise. One matter is certain. This album interprets in a modern way Scottish reels . At its heart is a traditional album of Scottish songs. Songs to be sung, loved and poured over for meaning and guidance.
With that introduction what then of the songs? The album starts with a song which is familiar to many but so misunderstood. This is not an anthem as we are told. It is pure passion .The opening drum beats call the listener to attention. Here there is urgency, a shout, a message. The guitar at first muted but then as if on a battle ground and a call to arms the guitar pierces through and what sound. like never before , so rich so beautiful and above all without equal. It is to fill the listener’s heart with hope and longing. The rhythm is without doubt Gàidhligt and at once we realise the landscape we are drawn too.
Listen to this song and the sentiments with open mind and cast off what the critics have told you. Above all hear the landscape and see the compass pointing to the land. To hear this song on any level without emotion is to reject any notion of passion to decry music itself. The start of the album must inspire all but those who have no need for music nor understanding.
Inwards has an amazing rich poignant message and one that could be lost in melancholy but for the intriguing guitar rhythm. This is a hypnotic sound and again without equal for its time nor indeed now. It mesmerised the listener. It has such power . The haunting opening so evocative of the landscape. It speaks of loss of a relative. The poetic lyrics are equally matched by syncopated stunning guitars and what imagery.
I wouldn’t want to go home
On a night like this
When I find out that some of the past
Has been missed
How the words bring forth the feeling of loss. Sheer beauty and imagery. The song builds and breaks down only to build again with textures and layers so rich. Again a driving rhythm with the base and drums combining to call the listener to attention. The song is fascinating . It has no reference and does not on any level conform to a song from what we are told is a band from the 80′s .
The pace is then slowed. Another single and yet more misunderstood sentiments and lazy critics. This is a song of such beauty and wonder set to chiming guitars and longing. The song explains the feelings of being young and shouldering such responsibility. Told with passion set against a simple haunting melody. Here there is imagery of the landscape a place of work and home. The harshness of fate is played out. Listen to this song from another view. The sentiments fill a space within where love and pride once stood .
A 1000 stars pierces the brief silence. The guitars soar and provide again a stunning backdrop to imagery. Here there is an anti war message simple and effective. The drums again call the listener to attention and a sense of starkness is evident. In contrast to U2”s war album there is no obvious sense of anger and contempt for war. The guitars are used to devastating effect calling the masses to shelter from air attack. The rhythm and harmonic sounds convey the sense of futility.
On the storm we see how utterly unique this album is. Again the context is vital. An album from 1983 with what in effect is a Scottish folk song. The critics were simply unable to begin to understand how and why this song is included. The listener understand immediately the image and story being told. That of brutal displacement of the people. Again imagery is key. survival and living off the land set against stunning guitar which much to the sheer frustration of the press sounds of a fiddle rather than an instrument filled with air. The lazy press made much of the guitars sounding like the traditional instrument. look past the obvious at all times. This is such a unique song and needs to heard many times to be fully understood.
Back to a single again and what a force of nature. That this was the bands first single is beyond reason. Released in 1982 it is a song of such epic landscape and sound. Again the lazy critics were quick to point to the guitars and seek to explain away the sound. This songs tells of loss of the land and again displacement. Such beautiful poetic lyrics and soaring guitar
Who lead the Mayday feasting
Who saw the harvest home
Who left the future wasting
Who watched the families go
The song has such rich texture . The building of the rhythm is unique as is the personification of the landscape through the guitars. This is a song to be savoured and understood beyond any simple gesture of a disinterested press. The listener should hear what is behind the driving rhythm the drums and guitars. At once a familar lanscape opens up and we are transported to a beloved nation . That pride is spoken so lovingly of the place where they stand is fully expected in this song. It is a masterpiece without equal.
conscious of the time and my desire to explore this album with true heartfelt love i will return to the remaining tracks in another blog.
I depart with one simple message. If your heart has ever longed for the feeling of freedom hope and a sense of belonging . If you have ever wished to see a landscape and nation so so inspirational and loved and celebrated through music listen to this album. If you have no desire left to give any other any hope sit and listen to this album.
Maps on the back of your hands point to the cross
Scratches on walls in a room draw out your loss
Your islands are conquered and
You are returned to the throne
Martyrs take penance and
Fill up the mattress with stones