Monday, 29 December 2014

The Outfield - Play Deep (1985)

 Originally formed in Manchester under the monikers Sirius. B in the late 1970's, The Outfield spent many of their early years in conflict with the surging popularity of punk rock amongst the mainstream music scene in the UK. The Outfield originally adopted a more pop-rock sound and as such struggled to break through. The band disbanded although they returned a few years later under the name 'The Baseball Boys', played shows around London and recorded a demo that would eventually get them signed to an American label. Stateside record companies were impressed with the band's American style of sound and probably because their name contained the word 'baseball'. Following a final change of band name and thus becoming The Outfield, the band released their debut album Play Deep in 1985.

The album achieved incredible commercial success, reaching #9 on the Billboard 200 in early 1986 and going on to reach triple platinum status. This was partly due to the band championing a sound that the Americans just couldn't get enough of. Bands such as Van Halen, Bon Jovi, Boston and Dire Straits all enjoyed #1 albums between 1985 and 1986 and The Outfield's debut impressed most because of how honed their music style already style sounded. Little did the American public know though is that the band had been playing this kind of music for years already, albeit in small UK venues and as such away from the mainstream. 

'Say It Isn't So' was the album's opener and the first single released by the band. The video featured a young woman wandering through the hustle and bustle of northern English night life and four heavily-mulleted gentlemen (with white Stevie Wonder on keyboards) who very clearly looked like they knew what they were doing. They had the drumstick twirling, the fist pumping, the baleful staring and pointing directly at the camera; they had it all. The lyrics were quintessentially 80's, from the opening line of "you got me all screwed up so much I can't turn 'round/and I've been running about with some funny girls, I'm not so tough" to the lovelorn chorus of "say it isn't so, tell me I'm the only one". 
Second track "Your Love" was the one that nailed it for The Outfield and the one that essentially pushed the album so highly in the Billboard charts. The single hit #6 on the US singles charts and up to yet has reached over 17 million views on YouTube (incidentally the single reached #83 in the UK charts, highlighting the stark contrast in popularity from one side of the Atlantic to the other). Bassist and lead-vocalist Tony Lewis's singing style is just perfect for the kind of music The Outfield were playing. Play Deep was full of emotionally charged, heart on your sleeve moments and Lewis could convey that as well as anyone else around that time. The bombastic, gang-vocals on the chorus lyric "I don't wanna lose your love tonight" sounded like Van Halen in their peak, not an English band fresh from their first album. 

The Duran Duran-esque "I don't Need Her" kicks up the tempo and adds a little more bite to precedings. It's worth noting that while Tony Lewis was lead vocalist, all the songwriting was done by guitarist John Spinks, a man that very clearly looks like he belongs in an 1980's rock band. His mullet was like a gigantic, blonde peacock and his fashion sense was something Freddie Mercury would have been very proud of. A talented songwriter and eccentric musician, Spinks sadly passed away earlier this year.
If you want to see just how popular The Outfield became in their first year as a mainstream band, go check out the video to "Everytime You Cry". The video was shot at a live concert, with a backdrop of an endless sea of hands and lighters. This is followed by the excellent, power-pop double header of "61 Seconds" and "Mystery Man".

One of the things I most enjoy about the band is that they play their music with a smile. If other British bands such as U2 and Depeche Mode are a little bit too serious for you then The Outfield are a fine substitute. Even in videos for their most emotional, loveless-themed songs, frontman Tony Lewis can be seen beaming from ear to ear. The rest of the band carry a swagger and a good time vibe that very little modern British bands seem to want to harness. 

The next few tracks of Play Deep consist of the ten tonne ballad "All The Love", Mr Mister influenced "Talk To Me" and "Taking My Chances" which featured additional vocals from Spinks. The album is rounded off with "Nervous Alibi" which is a brooding ballad that gives Lewis a chance to really stretch his vocal chords.

Sadly, The Outfield's success was short lived. Follow up album Bangin' was a top 20 hit and was certified gold but popularity waned with each subsequent release. The band eventually announced a lengthy hiatus in the 90's but returned to play a couple of shows back in the UK. One of my favourite tales surrounding their reformation was that many of their shows were played in a small pub in the East End with many of the crowd unaware the band had sold millions of records in the US. Such was the polar opposite levels of popularity the band achieved stateside and back in their homeland. Following this was a complete disbandment of the band until in 2009 the original lineup reunited to record their 9th album Replay which was received with extremely favourable reviews.

The Outfield are still active today and I would love to catch them live someday. However with the recent death of Spinks the band's future is uncertain, though with modern popularity of bygone-era bands such as Fleetwood Mac, The Who and Black Sabbath then I guess anything is possible. One thing's for sure though if you like big hair and big tunes then grab a copy of Play Deep and relive one of the most playful, catchy and downright beautiful albums the 1980's had to offer.

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