Then and Now: Texas

When Texas made its U.S. debut, the “modern rock” genre was dominated by REM, U2, Siouxsie and the Banshees, Big Audio Dynamite, The Cure, XTC, B-52s, Love and Rockets, and The Replacements. And while those bands are all wonderful,Texas came onto the scene channeling American roots-based rock – and they were from Scotland!

Fronted by Sharleen Spiteri, and founded by ex-Hipsway and Alter Images member, Johnny McElhone, Texas had a very catchy single (Listen to “I Don’t Want A Lover” HERE) that only charted at #77 on the U.S. charts (#11 on the Modern Rock charts). But the song was kind of unique in that it had slide guitar fused with thumping synth – which made for a nice pairing of “old” and “new.” Spiteri’s powerful vocals, solid songwriting and impressive playing made the rest of the album a favorite of mine in 1989. J and I cut our comparative politics class at SF State one night so we could see them play at Slim’s in San Francisco. And it was worth it. The band played a brilliant set marred only by a so-so cover of The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy For The Devil.”

Their sophomore effort, “Mothers Heaven” was a decent enough follow-up to their debut, “Southside.” However, it was a more somber album peppered with too many mid-tempo “sound alike” numbers (a surprisingly subtle musical choice for a band with a big sound!)

Their third release is, to me, a great album. The music on “Rick’s Road” shed the synth and accentuated the great guitar playing of Ally McErlaine. This album doesn’t have the pop “punch” of “Southside,” but it really is an impressive rock album that has all the familiar flourishes for songs of this style, but Texas uses them masterfully. (Listen to “Beautiful Angel” HERE) The album didn’t do that well in terms of sales, but the band got a nice boost from Ellen DeGeneres when the song “So-Called Friend” was used as the theme song for her sitcom, “Ellen,” from 1994 to 1998.

By the time they recorded “White On Blonde” (1997), Texas had a kind of fashion make over when it came both to their music and their “look.” “Say What You Want” (Listen HERE) was the most successful song for the band, and also their greatest departure in style and substance. Indeed the album was so successful in the U.K. that they charted with three other singles in the top 10 (“Halo,” “Black Eyed Boy,” and “Put Your Arms Around Me”). Fans of their early work were probably saddened by the band’s neo white soul gloss, but it sure paid dividends in terms of “moving units.”

Texas has always been more popular in Britain than the U.S., and it’s a shame (for North Americans, anyway) because they have been fairly consistent in the quality of their output – even though the release of their albums has been a bit spotty at times. The last album “Red Book” (2005) continued with the formula that earned them a great deal of success, but while there are some solid songs on the CD, one veers too closely into Kylie Minogue territory — which takes the “cringe factor” up a few notches (Listen to “Can’t Resist” HERE).

The current state of the band can only be described as a “rough patch.” In January, the band announced that Sharleen developed nodules on her vocal chords. She is not allowed to sing, shout, or even speak on the telephone until March 2007. There’s a good chance that she’ll recover and will be able to return to singing again, but until then, we’ll always have Texas…on CD.

–PK

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