Steeleye Span

Back in Line

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Released in 1986, this marks the second of Steeleye Span's four comebacks (1980's Sails of Silver being their first). Since the mid-'80s weren't particularly sympathetic to re-formed classic bands yet, this was a surprising move for Steeleye Span. New alternative acts like the Pogues and the Men They Couldn't Hang were introducing a new generation to folk-rock, so while this reunion (and Fairport Convention's concurrent one) mildly energized old fans, it generated little outside interest. The same factors that led to their late-'70s demise were still working against them, namely newer, alternate forms of music stealing the headlines, although in 1986 it was the post-punk/new-wave trends in the forefront, even within the folk-rock genre. Regardless, this album's identity was in question from the start; the uncharacteristically "contemporary" (and weak) "Edward" leads off, featuring the seldom-used vocals of guitarist Bob Johnson. Back in Line rebounds nicely with the next track, "Isabel," which at times bears a noticeable resemblance to 1973's "Parcel of Rogues," but it's Maddy Prior's trademark delivery coupled with Peter Knight's familiar violin and a simple electric guitar attack that rescues this album from an early grave. The up-and-down pattern continues throughout the remaining tracks. Nigel Pegrum's elementary drumming drags down even the better songs, like Rick Kemp's anthemic "Peace on the Border." Steeleye Span's funky updated version of "Blackleg Miner" offers an interesting new sound for the band, but is also indicative of this album's overall uncertain direction.

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