Fine Young Cannibals' 1986 debut album was heady but erratic fine, rough pop ("Johnny Come Home") and a tremendous cover of Elvis Presley's "Suspicious Minds" bumping against filler so obvious that side two could have been called Album Helper. But after three years of assorted side projects (guitarist Andy Cox and bassist David Steele did some soundtrack work and released a passable house-music single under the moniker Two Men, a Drum Machine and a Trumpet; singer Roland Gift appeared in two films), the band has reunited for The Raw and the Cooked, an album that far outshines the debut. On this soulful gem, the trio lose themselves in their new songs just as Cox and Steele used to as members of the English Beat.
The songs on The Raw and the Cooked cover a far wider range than that of the debut. "Tell Me What" offers a Vocal Group-meets-Buddy Holly arrangement; "Good Thing" (one of the numbers the band performed in the film Tin Men) is an infectiously happy pop song that takes its cues from light funk. Gift's distinctive vocals are occasionally overdramatic (on "As Hard As It Is," he sounds like Buster Poindexter impersonating Johnny Mathis), but for the most part he glides atop the songs and then goes for the throat.
The instant classic on this album is a cover of the Buzzcocks' "Ever Fallen in Love," which originally appeared on the soundtrack of Something Wild two years back. Cox and Steele take the punk grind of the original and expand it into a grand elegy that offers the spirit of punk gilded by the grace of the most beautiful pop.
It took a while, but The Raw and the Cooked is Fine Young Cannibals' great step forward. (RS 547)
(Posted: Mar 9, 1989)