The Raw & The Cooked, the smash second album by Fine Young Cannibals, turns 30
Fine Young Cannibals were truer in effect to bands like the 1975 and much of the R&B- and pop-indebted current reboot of indie-rock than most ‘80s contemporaries. Except for one chief difference: Fuck concept. Lean, mean singles machines is all FYC ever strove to be, though it never made sense that they didn’t want to last when the hooks (and full-blown songs) emerged from them so effortlessly.
Of course, that was maybe just self-knowledge. Sensing the overkill that “She Drives Me Crazy” had wreaked on the world in 1989, maybe they felt the only follow-up move with good taste would be to exit the stage permanently. But they also only lasted five years, long enough to put out two albums. Maybe an R&B outfit that covered the Buzzcocks wasn’t sustainable, though I doubt it. More likely, they were some kind of Foster the People operating at a much higher level of shameless jingle density x quality control. Not only did “Good Thing” win its fair share of ingratiating public minds via ubiquity, but you didn’t remember it also topped the Hot 100. Yet even if FYC’s steel-cut songcraft was better suited to a Burger King commercial than the unforgiving sea changes of top 40, their two albums and completist-appeasing best-of deserved better than their eventual dollar bin-and VH1 list nostalgia fate.
The Raw and the Cooked was the bigger of the two, and being the 80s, that also meant better. Being on IRS records, home of R.E.M.’s Murmur and, like, Wall of Voodoo, no doubt contributed to the homemade tale behind the perfectly gated snare-crack upon which “She Drives Me Crazy” frames its monster hook, when increasingly in-demand technology would do just fine. But they were strangely warm, not at all callow, and significantly a band. Roland Gift’s versatile thorax needed guitarist Andy Cox and one-man rhythm machine David Steele, both formerly of the English Beat, to fill out an always kinetic and never-overcomplicated, new-wave-soul synthesis.
Their debut’s opening “Johnny Come Home” immediately established how smart they are, with its pronounced major-to-minor shifts, and covering Elvis (“Suspicious Minds”) on your debut album is one way to flex, though sounding just like the other Elvis on “Don’t Ask Me to Choose” simply proposed the question of whether these guys could advance beyond their rampant worship of Trust. Not only did Cooked deliver the hits, in 35 minutes it’s as tight and songful-grooveful as any cluster of ‘80s pop this side of Dirty Mind.
It’s also packed. Any sequence — try the percolating near-house “I’m Not Satisfied” into the Jackie Wilson-lite of “Tell Me What,” or the acid 303 squleches and 909 beats of “Don’t Let It Get You Down” shifting into the waltz-time Otis Redding impression “As Hard as It Is” — expertly shifts modes and era like Gift is merely trying on outfits. The power-pop of “Don’t Look Back” is Rickenbacker bliss, and the closing ballad is indeed that Buzzcocks cover, the classic “Ever Fallen in Love” slowed to a menacing, poignant crawl that forgoes the nervous energy of the original so Gift’s unhurried, warmly plastic croon could breathe. They neither tried to follow it up, nor felt the need to explain themselves. Having conquered the world as neatly as their song structures, their job was simply done. The Raw and the Cooked neatly zipped up the decade of decadence for the next cannibals to take over.