As soon as I saw this album, it represented a real ‘blast from the past’ (as they say) for me, as it brought back into focus a band I had long half forgotten about – to my shame I may add! I well remember when Glasgow band Gun burst into the spotlight over three decades ago, with their debut album Taking On The World and the anthemic hit single Better Days, being very impressed with their mix of powerful playing and disciplined, unashamedly catchy songwriting. That first album was an excellent listen, but somehow – as is occasionally the case – I lost touch with the band’s progress as the years went on, without quite knowing why. So it was that this album very much piqued my interest, being for the most part a reimagining of many of their old and classic songs, including five from that debut album and another which had been the B-side of the Better Days single. What better way to renew my acquaintance with many of these old favourites while meeting a few new ones along the way?
When I say ‘mostly’ consisting of reworked songs, this is because the opening song of the 14 here is a new one, though it forms the keystone on which the albums’s concept is built. Calton is the district of Glasgow’s East End in which the core of Gun, brothers Dante and Giuliano Rizzi, were raised, and as the sleeve notes explain, all of the songs here (bar their unexpected but effective cover of Cameo’s Word Up) were inspired or related to growing up in that area. That new track, Backstreet Brothers, ties the whole thing together perfectly, making the album a nicely realised whole. It is a storming, full-band hard rock song, complete with big soaring chorus and a real ‘band of brothers feel to it, and it makes for a fine opener. It is, however, a track which stands apart from the rest of the album for more than one reason.
The rest of the songs, you see, are described as ‘semi acoustic’ reworkings of the originals, which I’m sure sets off alarm bells of a possibly underwhelming nature in more listeners than myself. However, the ‘semi-acoustic’ tagline is important here, as this is no token ‘unplugged’ filler like too many of its ilk have been over the years. There is an acoustic guitar bed underpinning the arrangements, for sure, giving them a fuller and less angular quality, but the instrumentation does not end with acoustic guitars and maybe a bit of bass and some rudimentary percussion, have no fear. The full band are present on most of the tracks here, so you get the whole drums, bass, keyboards configuration, along with, most crucially, several tracks on which a big electric guitar solo is featured, making for an excellent contrast with the lighter backing and also that rock edge which otherwise could be lacking. It’s well thought out and imaginatively arranged, with the overall effect not unlike a cross between Bon Jovi and Del Amitri, to use a crude catch-all comparison.
This isn’t to say that all of the tracks here are definitive takes on the songs. They aren’t, and no-one should seriously expect them to be. Many, however, are certainly as good if not arguably better than their original counterparts. Better Days is a good example of a song surviving the rearrangement extremely successfully, as not only is the chorus strong enough to do without a heavy rock instrumentation, but the added backing vocals give it a new dimension. The original is still a classic, but this is the same in a slightly different way. The closer, Watch The World Go By, is a magnificent way to close the record, a downbeat, reflective take for sure, but a perfect closer in its wistful, world-weary lyricism. There are odd songs here which don’t translate quite so well – the band’s heavied-up version of Word Up drags a little when shorn of its startlingly inventive rock arrangement, making it sound a little more forced than it ever did before, and the debut album favourite Money (Everybody Loves Her), while still able to get the feet twitching well enough, cannot match the insanely infectious groove of the original. Overall, however, there is little here which would not delight the fans, as everything presents a genuine, impeccably recorded, alternative take on the familiar.
So, if you’re a fan you’ll want this, and you won’t be disappointed, that I think is a given. For the more casual listener, however, does this stack up? From the sense of getting a taster of what Gun are about and can deliver, then yes it does. My advice to any (almost) newcomer to the band would be to check this out, and if you like what you hear then you can be assured that you are going to love what Gun have done across the decades. Would I recommend this above that classic debut album? In an ‘either/or’ situation I would have to go with Taking On The World, but in terms of one complementing the other (and also including a good smattering of later material as well) then it is absolutely worth it. It has certainly inspired me to chase up the Gun releases that I missed out on first time around, which is testament to the enduring quality of the songs here.
The version I have is the vinyl release, and that is the one in this case which I would heartily recommend. A double-disc, it includes all of the tracks from the equivalent CD or digital versions, and with the discs being pressed (appropriately) in vibrant ‘cherry red’ vinyl, it’s a beautiful package. One for that vinyl shelf without a doubt.