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Fine Young Cannibals: The Raw And The Cooked (1988)

March 6, 2013

Fine Young Cannibals Raw and the Cooked artwork
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Album: Fine Young Cannibals, The Raw & The Cooked

The first compact disc I ever bought was Fine Young Cannibals‘ self-titled debut (1985). I picked it up in a clearance bin at an A&A Records mall store during the chain’s bankruptcy sometime around 1990 or 1991. I didn’t even own a CD player and wouldn’t for a few more years. I was as resistant to give up cassettes for CDs as I have been to eschew any form of physical album a folder of MP3s. But the disc was $2 (an unheard-of deal at the time) and, I was surprised to discover, I just needed to own it. My well-loved cassette was starting sound pretty dodgy.

It was like the finale of a romantic comedy where the guy realizes he’s always been in love with the mousy girl (now wearing make-up and having lost her glasses, of course) all along. Unbeknownst to me, in spite of my dislike for at least half of The Raw and The Cooked (roughly 25% of their recorded output), FYC were one of my all-time favourite bands. I had no idea. After all, the band that recorded the annoying, calculated earworm known as “She Drives Me Crazy” surely couldn’t be taken seriously.

Needless to say, this was the kind of stunning epiphany that shook me to the core (I must have been blessed if this was the biggest spiritual struggle in my young adult life—little did I know what was coming up) and forced me to take another look at The Raw and The Cooked.

My perceived dislike for the album stemmed from first hearing three songs I absolutely loved:  “Good Thing“, “Tell Me What” and “As Hard As It Is” featured in the 1987 Richard Dreyfus / Danny Devito comedy Tin Men. FYC had a cameo in the film as the house band at a bar and these three tracks built on the classic early ’60s R&B sound of their debut (the film was set in 1963). These songs make up the “raw” portion of the album with the other seven falling into the “cooked” sound of “She Drives Me Crazy”. When the album was released in 1988, rocker that I was, I simply expected (wanted) more of the Raw and less of the Cooked.

In the years since, I’ve grown to appreciate the overcooked production of tracks like “I’m Not The Man I Used To Be” (with the timely and ubiquitous “Funky Drummer” sample loop) and even find it amusing how the backing tracks to “I’m Not Satisfied” sound like a carbon copy of New Order‘s “True Faith“. That New Order single and the production style of INXS‘s Kick album (a massive hit in ’87) flavour the Cooked tracks so much that if Roland Gift hadn’t possessed such a unique voice, The Raw and The Cooked would have been indistinguishable from anything else on pop radio in ’88.

This isn’t to say the Cooked tracks nearly are as schlocky as I thought them at the time. Compared to some of the pop tripe released in the late ’80s, they’re far from it. But they have dated themselves whereas FYC’s debut and Raw tracks have a certain timeless quality to them. At the very least, it was a missed opportunity not to give “I’m Not The Man I Used To Be” and “Ever Fallen In Love” the Raw treatment and divided the album up evenly with a Raw side and a Cooked side. This might have resulted in me killing piles of batteries rewinding that side on my Walkman over and over again so it’s probably for the good of the planet that they didn’t.

Unfortunately, though not exactly schlock, all the Cooked songs (aside from perhaps “She Drives Me Crazy”)  feel like they would have been better served Raw. “Crazy” was such a big hit for the band it’s hard to fault them or the production team for the stylistic approach, but a fan of their first album has to wonder what would have happened if they’d played to the band’s strengths instead of the marketplace. Would the album still have been a hit or would it have vanished upon release?

Probably the latter, but it might have kept better and now be considered an under-appreciated modern rock delicacy rather than a one hit wonder’s only album. Though both albums have recently been re-released as deluxe editions in the UK, their debut masterpiece seems to be almost entirely forgotten on this side of the pond. But not by me.  I still own the exact same copy of Fine Young Cannibals that I picked up in the A&A liquidation sale.

This really says something since my CD collection tends to be like the human body—the cells regenerate every seven years. I’ve constantly traded in albums as my interest waned only to realize the error of my ways and bought them back five or six years later. My collection might look more or less like it did in 1999, but half the discs are actually different copies. Yeah, it’s a stupid hobby. But it keeps me occupied.

FYC’s debut has been the one constant. It’s stuck with me through dozens of moves and is one of the only albums I actually pull out and listen to every year without fail (I actually regret not hanging onto my original cassette). The last time I pulled it out, I noticed the foil on the disc is beginning to degrade and you can see pinholes in it if you hold it up to the light. Contrary to the PR announcements in the 1980s, CDs do not last forever. Anyway, the pinholes didn’t seem to cause any skips or glitches. Yet.

Good thing I own a copy (or two) on vinyl.

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