Friends Again

Trapped and Unwrapped [Expanded Edition]

(CD - Cherry Red #CDBRED 784)

Review by

Following in the mighty footsteps of Orange Juice and Aztec Camera, fellow Scots Friends Again looked to combine the grandeur of Bowie-style rock, the jingle jangle of folk-rock, and the bouncing rhythms of funk and disco. Unlike those bands, their career ended almost before it started and their one album, Trapped and Unwrapped, wasn't released until after they split up. It's a lovely slice of sophisticated pop that definitely deserves its status as something of a lost classic. Far slicker than Orange Juice and less poetic than Aztec Camera, the band have a more commercial and smoothed-down sound. The production on the album is full and rich featuring skillfully layered keyboards, twanging guitars, nimble bass lines, and even strings arranged by the legendary Paul Buckmaster. Add expressive Bowie-influenced vocalist Chris Thomson and the result is closer to the lush sound of new romantic bands like ABC or the peppy feel of new wave than it is to gloomy post-punk. "Swallows in the Rain" has the same loping, cinematic feel of "Look of Love," "Sunkissed" delivers Haircut 100-style snappy horns and giddy background," and the lilting "South of Love" sounds like an up-tempo Culture Club if one squints in just the right way. There are some songs that do come across like a cleaned up OJ -- the rollicking "Lullaby No.2" and for sure "Lucky Star" -- but the band sound too impassioned, dramatic, and hooky to come across as mere imitators. Trapped and Unwrapped is top-shelf guitar pop made with precision and heart; it's a more fully formed LP than anything their contemporaries managed to put together, and it gave the bands that followed in their wake -- like Lloyd Cole and the Commotions, for one -- a very high bar to try and climb over. Friends Again may have flamed out too soon, but the album they left behind is a timeless guitar pop classic.

[Cherry Red's reissue adds a second disc full of remixes, different versions of tracks, and rarities. The remixes are pretty close to the originals -- nothing too drastically different. The scattered tracks from B-sides and EPs are nice to have in one place; "Wand You Wave" from The Friends Again EP is one of the band's best songs thanks to the wordcraft and Thomson's vocals. The best additions are the three demos recorded by the group just before they split in 1984; they show that the band were poised to make another great album if only lack of success and disappointment hadn't brought their run to a close. The expansive liner notes, the remastered sound, and the extra tracks make this edition of Trapped and Unwrapped an absolutely essential document.]

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