Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Celebrating 20 Years of Texas

I first met and fell in love with Texas at 19, during the summer of 2004. Already a fan of various European exports in the form of the Spice Girls, Kylie Minogue, The Corrs, and Robbie Williams, Texas was a welcome addition to my growing collection.

Founded by Johnny McElhone in 1986, a former member of Hipsway and Altered Images, McElhone drew the Texas name from the Wim Wenders directed, Ry Cooder scored film Paris, Texas. Texas shot to fame with the biting urgency of "I Don't Want a Lover," from their debut Southside (1989) in the United Kingdom.

More than another hip '90's outfit, Texas is musical magic, and here is the tale of Texas, thus far...

1989-1993: Earthy Beginnings

Signed (still) with Mercury Records, Texas' debut recording Southside (1989) introduced the world to Sharleen Spiteri. A charismatic voice that was breathtaking. The band, Stuart Kerr (drums), Ally McErlaine (slide guitar), and Johnny McElhone (guitar/songwriter) constructed a solid sound of early-era U2 flavored rock with spacious country ambitions for Spiteri to soar atop. Off the strength of "I Don't Want a Lover," Southside shifted two million units in Britain alone.

1991's follow-up, the insistent Mothers Heaven fell victim to a fickle buying populace. Ricks Road alleviated some of the commercial tension when it released in 1993. The single "So Called Friend" became the theme to Ellen DeGeneres' TV show Ellen. Ricks Road drew from a similar well of blues, country, and rock like their two previous recordings. One key difference with Ricks Road factored into a tender cover of the Al Green classic, "Tired of Being Alone." The first seed of the blue-eyed revolution Texas was to utilize later surfaced on this song.

1997-2000: Blue-Eyed Soul Reigns

Texas' creative overhaul led to a burst in popularity across the board, partially in thanks to Spiteri's transformation from ingenue to confident front woman. McElhone and McErlaine became the only members from the original Texas line-up to stay intact as the band took on a revolving door aspect. Eddie Campbell, a keyboardist since 1991, also stayed with Texas throughout out its swaps.

Texas kept music at the fore and pulled off a major coup with White On Blonde (1997). Mingling alternative pop-rock with soul helped White On Blonde go platinum six times, securing Texas as darlings of the British realm.

Spiteri's growth as a singer was on display with the somber "Say What You Want" and epic "Halo." Texas' exploration of blue-eyed soul reached its zenith with The Hush (1999), their most accomplished record to date and the one that began my romance with them in the summer of 2004.

Taking the best from Philadelphia, Stax, and Motown they worked in those American sounds with a smooth European sheen. The Hush was downcast ("Day By Day"), sexy ("Summer Son"), and groovy ("Tell Me the Answer").

A retrospective followed a year later in 2000 with three new songs: "In Demand," "Inner Smile," and "Guitar Song." Anything cut before 1997 was given a "reworking" for the collection. Depending on the type of Texas fan, this either infuriated or excited. Notably absent was any material from Mothers Heaven.

2003-Present: Experiments & Hiatus

Dabbling in a bit of punk, dancehall, but with their rock soaked soul, Texas unleashed Careful What You Wish For (2003), their sixth LP, and first of original material since The Hush.

The album spawned a muted reaction amongst record buyers and critics. A thrilling, if mixed, bag of tricks in "Telephone X" and "Broken" kicked off the record on a hard note. "Telephone X" owed a debt to Blondie's "Hanging on the Telephone," while "Broken" saw Spiteri flaunting her self-harmonies. The first single "Carnival Girl," with Kardinal Offishall, grated or delighted. Careful managed to be effective in stating that Texas would not rest on past laurels, even if the new ideas didn't always click.

Another year passed before Red Book (2005), their safe reach back to pop majesty ("Getaway") that recalled former glory. Dull patches like "Can't Resist" did mar the record unfortunately. Red Book recovered quickly on the sprawling duet "Sleep" with Paul Buchanan (of The Blue Nile) and the watercolor sadness of "Bad Weather." The record didn't fare better sales when compared to Careful What You Wish For, though many hailed it as a return to a "classic Texas" feel.

Texas took a sabbatical excusing their the live album The BBC Sessions  dropping in 2007. In 2008, Sharleen Spiteri issued Melody, her first solo album. The record performed modestly, whether or not its muted success will herald a Texas reunion is yet to be seen. Though favored by the college radios of the U.S.A. they never broke into our marketplace due to our auditory ignorance. Our loss as Texas executed refined pop like none other. One can hope for the Texas story to continue.-QH

[Editor's Note: For more information on Texas visit,]

No comments: