I'm thrilled to report that Cherry Red Records have reissued The Lover Speaks, the 1986 self-titled release from the band. Expanded and remastered in an impressive fashion, the album sounds better than it ever has. You can order it here.
Of course, I can't but help think of 2 things when approaching this album. One is that in early 1996, I think, I was one of many fans of The Lover Speaks yelling at the TV as Annie Lennox won a Grammy for her cover of "No More 'I Love You's'". It's not that I begrudged her success but, rather, that I resented the fact that 99% of the people clapping had probably never heard the original version of the song by The Lover Speaks, and certainly not when it was a new single.
And the other thing is that I'm reminded when I play this record now of a time in 1986 when I made the switch from listening to so much U2 and stuff like that to more artsy offerings on 4AD. I think the only reason I picked up The Lover Speaks record was that the cover art reminded me of the cover of the first This Mortal Coil. I knew nothing about this band and was thinking that I had stumbled upon another outfit like that Ivo-organized super-group.
I hadn't but what I took a chance with back then in 1986 was a great pop record. It remains so and it's certainly never sounded better than on this expanded reissue from Cherry Red.
What David E.D. Freeman calls in the track annotations, an "exercise in camp with a bouffant hairdo", the album is, instead, a sort of masterclass in how to maximize a studio in the service of creating literate pop. Looked at nearly 30 years later, The Lover Speaks seems now closer to stuff like Prefab Sprout and Scritti Politti than it did in 1986. It's an album of its era, certainly, but it's not entirely dated. There is -- as anyone who's heard any version of it can attest -- something quite literate about "No More 'I Love You's'" and the rest of the record still holds up in similar fashion betraying a great deal more care in pop-craft than I perhaps gave it credit for in 1986 when I was simply looking for another 4AD-style cassette.
"Every Lover's Sign" still seems like a classic pop song while "Never to Forget You" soars and remains a neglected gem from this record. What one takes away from The Lover Speaks now in 2015 -- and what's made even clearer when one reads the track-by-track notes from David E.D. Freeman and Joseph Hughes -- is that this is the sound of 2 guys pulling out all the stops in the studio. While The Lover Speaks were a real band, in 1986 one wasn't quite sure. And that was okay. A fan of the pop single, I could sense, even then, that they were pushing things in the direction of bombast at certain points but it was with a real sense of affection for this sort of thing. Hughes and Freeman certainly understood how to construct a single, for example. Listened to now, I can hear strains of Marc Almond here, or even George Michael, back then about to go solo. The bridge between mainstream pop and alternative was built in spectacular fashion on this record.
And that was probably the problem. The record straddled two worlds that in 1986 were pretty sharply defined; Smiths fans might have been put off by the production on The Lover Speaks, while fans of Madonna, might not have wanted to put on an album inspired by a Roland Barthes book.
This edition of The Lover Speaks is expanded by 8 bonus cuts, including the band's breathtaking version of "I Close My Eyes and Count to Ten" by Dusty Springfield. Heard now, the song places the band closer to contemporaries and tour-mates Eurythmics. There's certainly more overt soul here than I expected to find but it's also that "camp" that Freeman mentions in the notes.
But, I think, that's what made The Lover Speaks such a unique proposition in 1986 and now. These were smart guys who'd assembled an amazing cast of players -- Springsteen's man Roy Bittan, one-time Mo-Dette June Miles-Kingston, and so on -- in support of crafting something that remains wholly self-contained and of its kind. I mean, I defy you to name one record that is entirely similar to The Lover Speaks. You can pin down certain things here that place the band's sound next to the sound of their peers in 1986 -- and The Lover Speaks holds up better now than the Jimmy Jam/Terry Lewis-produced Human League record from the same year -- but you can't quite narrow this one down even now. What works so splendidly with The Lover Speaks is that it is of a piece and one doesn't entirely care if there's a real band behind this thing, or if the band were great live, or whatever. It is, perhaps as the makers intended, a sort of Phil Spector exercise in commanding a studio and creating pop music of the very highest order.