Mercury Records, 1983
REVIEW BY: Christopher Thelen
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/18/1997
When I was 12 years old, my aunt gave me a copy of Big Country's debut release The Crossing. I can't remember why she bought it for me, nor the reason she was so impressed with it at the time. I threw it into a corner of the room (long before I had the Pierce Memorial Archives - I think it was more the Pierce Memorial Closet at that age) and forgot about it after one listen.
Now that I'm older and have more of an appreciation for Scottish rock bands (like Del Amitri), I dug this one out of the Pierce Memorial Archives (where I'm actively looking for replacement copies of two Grand Funk records) and gave it a couple spins. While this quartet had its moments, my basic opinion hasn't changed that much: it's just an average record.
The band, led by guitarist Stuart Adamson, supposedly had the gimmick that their guitars sounded like bagpipes. Being a fan of bagpipe music myself, I'd love to know what you're supposed to be smoking to arrive at this conclusion. While the use of the E-bow, the "ultimate" electronic toy for the guitar, obviously produced some interesting sounds for Adamson and Bruce Watson, it sounds nothing like a bagpipe.
The big hit off The Crossing is the leadoff track, "In A Big Country." I remember enjoying the song when I listened to it back in 1983, and I still love the track. The harmonizing of the vocals is quite good, and the musicianship adds to the track. On the contrary, the other single from this one, "Fields Of Fire," has not held up well to the passage of time, and sounds way too repetitive.
I do remember losing interest past the two hits as a child, though after recent listens, I appreciate tracks like "1000 Stars" and "Porrohman" more. I also now understand why Del Amitri's debut sounds the way it does - in fact, quite a bit like this album does. The sound of both albums seems to be a mirror of what was in vogue in Scotland the first half of the '80s.
But the bulk of The Crossing is a half-hearted stab at pop while trying to manifest their Scottish roots. And kids, I honestly don't think you can do both at one time. When Big Country aimed for the pop jugular, more often than not they hit the target, if not the bullseye (as in the case of "Inwards"). When they showed off a little more of their roots, like on "Porrohman," the results were quite pleasing. The amalgam, like on "Fields Of Fire," blows.
To the long-time readers of this site, they may see this as further proof that I am just an old pop-hating curmudgeon. I beg to differ; I do enjoy pop, so long as it is done well. Even the production work of Steve Lillywhite can't turn crap into copper (though God knows he's done it enough times since then).
The Crossing does have moments that are worth investing the time and effort to listen to. And, maybe, the listener who can enjoy pop music more than myself for what it is will enjoy it. For the rest of us, I'd stick with the greatest hits disc.