Dave Cousins and I disagreed over the worthiness of the Strawbs album Nomadness (see my earlier post Rehanging the Gallery), but I think we would be in harmony regarding Burning for You. He says in his autobiography “’Burning for You’ is my least favourite Strawbs album.”1 It is my least favourite too, at least of the initial tranche of Strawbs albums released between 1969 and 1978.

I remember being disappointed when I first played it in the summer of 1977. The disappointment was all the greater because the opening track is magnificent and the second almost as good, but after that it all wallows in mediocrity. All three contributing songwriters provide a sense of treading water whilst being carried on the current sprayed by a commercially-leaning producer to push the band towards the shallow end.

With the exception of three tracks on side one, the songs lack any bite. The whole of side two is the band at its blandest and there is a cringe-worthy, and thankfully futile, grasp at chart success by attempting to replicate the band’s biggest hit from four years earlier.

I don’t even like the cover. I have an affection for surrealism and Patrick Woodroffe’s eye-singeing picture is certainly eye-catching, and while it has a literal connection with the title, it doesn’t say Strawbs in the way that earlier covers did. It does, however, symbolise this as rebranding, which is what producer Jeffrey Lesser was clearly aiming to achieve. His campaign spawned the studio war that resulted in a largely passive production feel, with the exception of three songs composed in response to provocation, the most brilliant of which was a direct reaction to Lesser’s lessening.

Here’s a track by track guide of the 1977 vinyl pressing:

Side One

Burning for Me. One of the finest Strawbs compositions. A deeply atmospheric track, written as all the best songs are, in response to deep emotional turmoil, in this case as a consequence of bitter disagreements regarding the production of the album. The result is a song that can work in completely unrelated contexts as summoned up by the listener. The sea, the isolation, the melancholy, the longing, the mourning and the fire are all here.

Cut Like a Diamond. The second track and the second-best song on the album. It’s a combined effort from Cousins and Chas Cronk, and a strong example of what that collaboration could create. With a few minor upswings it’s all downhill after this. An up-tempo contrast to the opening mood, this is high-energy resentment.

I Feel Your Loving Coming On. Not one of Dave Lambert’s best songs. Pleasingly structured and executed somewhere between stadium rock and easy listening, the result is a commercially leaning generality, in common with the majority of songs on this album.

Barcarole (For the Death of Venice). This track is more reminiscent of some of the earlier output, though it is entirely individual in texture. A satisfying musical renaissance painting of Venetian decomposition.

Alexander the Great. Cousins’ angry repost to a less than complimentary critique of songs on the previous album. The resentment and frustration come through. An uncomfortable listen.

Side Two

Keep on Trying. The album really gets into its popular glad rags with this offering. This and the next track may explain some of the rancour that triggered the writing of the opening song of the first side. The lyrics are encouraging but the production is attuned to single-buying seduction. It doesn’t quite work. The lead guitar is mixed too harshly and hence lacerates the gloss of the other instruments and the vocals. Overall the band sounds uncomfortably out of their niche and the impression is that they are keeping on trying a bit too hard.

Back in the Old Routine. And now the depths of desperation. A failed (thank goodness) attempt to regain the Part of the Union banner. There was pressure from the record label, but the band should have downed tools. Firstly, the team behind Part of the Union had long left this line up and had their hour in the sun, and secondly, although it was the best-selling single the band ever produced, it was also the least typical track they ever laid down. Released as a single Back in the Old Routine was a betrayal of their core values. Strawbs had always been a band with something significant to say (even Part of the Union complied with that), they were not a novelty sing-along outfit. Skip this one.

Heartbreaker. Another of Dave Lambert’s second division songs. It has his trademark energy and entertaining gear changes and is much better live than on here. The production once again pigeon-holes it with the general mashed chords of the mass market.

Carry Me Home. This is Chas Cronk’s contribution to the drift towards middle-of-the-road mediocrity. It’s an O.K. song, but Chas has written, and co-written, much better material.

Goodbye (is Not an Easy Word to Say). Cousin’s premature farewell to the band. It wasn’t over yet, but at the time of recording he thought it might be. It comes from the heart and hence sounds better than many of the previous tracks.

In summary

Almost a decade on from their emergence on a major record label, Burning for You finds this progressive band losing nearly all progressive momentum and almost entirely at odds with their heritage. Attempts by their record company to shoehorn them into the mainstream badly misfires. The Strawbs’ flame is flickering. It looks in danger, not of burning for you, but of guttering out.

More background to the above and all the lyrics can be found on the STRAWBS OFFICIAL WEBSITE.


1 D. Cousins, Exorcising Ghosts, Witchwood Media Ltd, 2014, page 205

Similar posts

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s