2013 marks the 25th anniversary of a certain young band from Glasgow’s first public concert. That night in March 1988, nobody looking towards the stage of Dundee University students’ union would have been any the wiser about the unknown and unsigned vision before them. A female-fronted quartet with a twangy, gang-like swagger harking back to the pout and punch of Blondie and The Pretenders a decade earlier. The singer, a sultry, scarlet-lipped 20-year-old tomboy with an ink-black shake of hair, a telecaster at her hip like a gunslinger poised to draw. And the music itself. A modern sound sequined with vintage flashes of soul, country and 50s jukebox pop, as if blasted from some self-constructed fantasy city neither Glasgow nor Memphis but a rock’n’roll town planner’s daydream in between. A sound which the world duly came to know as Texas.
A quarter century later, Texas carve their name with pride upon 2013 with an invigorating eighth album: to quite literally continue The Conversation they started that night in Dundee. Those intervening 25 years chart one of the great success stories in modern British music, from the band’s breakthrough 1989 top ten hit I Don’t Want A Lover to their eventual multi-platinum triptych of albums White On Blonde (1997), The Hush (1999) and their 2000 compilation of Greatest Hits. An achievement neatly summed up by the memorably simple statistic that, worldwide, Texas have sold more albums than the circa-30 million population of the actual state of Texas.
“I feel very proud that we’ve lasted 25 years,” says Sharleen Spiteri, singer, songwriter and indelibly iconic face of Texas. “And lucky. We’d got to such a point with recording and touring and playing massive venues that after our last album [Red Book, 2005] we decided to take a rest. Originally we thought it would be a year or two’s break, to spend time with our families or work on side projects. So it was never meant to be this long. But none of us could have expected what happened next.”
In September 2009, during the band’s hiatus which spawned Spiteri’s top 3 solo album Melody, founding guitarist Ally McErlaine suffered a brain aneurysm with only a 20% chance of survival. That McErlaine defied all medical odds and recovered was miracle enough. But neither Spiteri nor co-writer and founding bassist Johnny McElhone expected their fate-mocking guitarist to be the catalyst demanding Texas get back on stage at the earliest opportunity. “Ally was the catalyst,” admits Sharleen. “After I brought a guitar to the hospital and he started playing it and it sounded brilliant, even though he was cursing himself, he was the one who later said, ‘I want to go on tour’. At first, we went, ‘WHAT are you talking about?’! So from Ally’s aneurysm nearly being the end of Texas, his recovery ended up being a new beginning for Texas.”
That rebirth quickly escalated from the thrill of first rehearsal (as Sharleen paints the scene: “us all grinning at each other, as if we’d forgotten, going, ‘We’re not bad!’”) to the writing of The Conversation, their overdue return which clearly redefines and confidently re-introduces Texas afresh. An album splitting its seams with the joy of a long-proven pop force creating a collection of songs rich enough in melody and emotion to deserve filing beside the best of the band’s previous million-selling hits. From the Debbie-Harry-sweet tones of Dry Your Eyes and the full-pelt thrust of Detroit City to the anthemic title track, serrated with a savagely contagious swamp-rock guitar and the bloody stains of a bad romance. All of these, and more, effortlessly earn their place beside the immaculate Texas songbook of Say What You Want, Black Eyed Boy or In Our Lifetime.
“We were just ready,” says Sharleen. “There was no pressure on us. This is what we do and what we’ve done most of our adult lives. We get together, sit with guitars and the music comes out of nowhere. That might sound incredibly old-fashioned nowadays but that’s the way we make music and the way we’ve always believed great songs are written. Not by talking to studio programmers and staring at screens but through human beings singing and playing with one another. It was like, Bang! Rediscovering our fire all over again.”
With a new label [PIAS] Recordings adding to the excitement of a blank-page beginning, after early demos with esteemed producer and ex-Suede songwriter Bernard Butler, Spiteri and McElhone sought recruiting other new spirits to kickstart their muse. They found it in abundance in esteemed singer/songwriter Richard Hawley. An invitation to suffer the bone-chilling cold of his Sheffield rehearsal room was cue for two unbelievably prolific days of strumming bliss, punctuated by many visits to the pub (“I’ve never drank so much alcohol in my life,” confesses Sharleen, “afterwards I had to take a week’s holiday!”), and culminating in a 4 am Elvis Presley sing-song with security guards in a hotel foyer. That, and, much more importantly, a dozen new tracks, the cream of which forms much of The Conversation: a perfect marriage of Hawley’s 50s rock’n’roll frills and the timeless Texas magnetism to cast-iron melodies, be it the soft velvet surf of I Will Always or the girl-group hipswing of Talk About Love. “Writing with Richard was a dream,” says Sharleen, “the man has music oozing out of the ends of his fingers.”
Overseeing the production of the album themselves, The Conversation also found fresh voice in co-writer Karen Anne, the guest guitar prangs of ‘Little Barrie’ Cadogan (Primal Scream) and the polish of Gorillaz mixer Jason Cox applied at Damon Albarn’s studio. The result, a sound as colossal as you’d hope from an album of the combined ‘Made In Glasgow-Sheffield-London’ hallmark, is at once comfortingly familiar and pleasantly surprising. “The funny thing is, that if you asked me what a Texas record should sound like, I wouldn’t be able to tell you,” ponders Sharleen. “But I know that The Conversation sounds exactly like a Texas record.”
The audience acid test has already been passed when they resumed live shows in 2011, previewing the title track and Detroit City to a resounding thumbs-up. “That’s when you know if a song stands up or not,” notes Sharleen. “The other thing we couldn’t get over was seeing all these 19 and 20 year-old kids singing along to our old hits, me thinking, ‘How do you know this?’ But it’s because they’d have been the kids in the back of the car during the school run when you couldn’t turn on the radio without hearing us. So as well as our original fans, a new generation has caught us up. Which is why now feels absolutely the right time for Texas to be back.”
“And, apart from anything else,” Sharleen concludes, “we know we’ve made a great record. This is Texas, writing at our best.” So, The Conversation: in its way, The Celebration. An 11-gun salute to the fact that, 25 years since it started on that stage in Dundee, the musical dialogue between the world and Texas has yet to fall silent. Long may that beautiful banter continue.
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