Fearless

by Patrick Little.
archived from Song For Me website.

Boasting the most inventive album cover in the band’s catalog, this record may have been a sign of the band’s momentum at the time, showing confidence from the promotional sides. Also a time when paper was not scarce! While some foreign pressings were flat covered, the design features layered paging, with rows of computer-generated band photos. The photos are combined in all combinations, and the total composite is in the upper right-hand corner, under the word “Family”. After Anyway, John Wetton joined Family and added his own unique voice to the mix, along with up-front bass playing and equal guitar abilities. Wetton had no writing credits, so these songs were probably written before him; and his vocal presence was probably just a case of him taking lines on the spot, as opposed to writing for two lead singers. John Weider had “tired of bass playing” but this was just as well: Wetton’s tone in the live settings allowed Family to keep their “heavy” sound. For some reason, the running order of the songs seems a bit unplanned, like it is more a collection of single songs than a seamless album.

In this line-up Palmer was a major “progressive” element with his vibes, piano, flute and percussion. The dual vocals added a lot of richness to the new sound. Also a horn section was used on a number of tunes. The instrumentation is often confusing, because two guitars and bass will be playing simultaneously. Chapman is noted to play bass on a couple of tunes live, but it’s not clear if he did this in the studio. Wetton “inherited” the Gibson double-neck guitar (bass and six-string) for live playing. Never the band to do the same thing twice, Family’s last three albums were something of a consistent peak that eventually ended their own career. And this is the most “out there” of the bunch. Here they added some light touches with songs that were less serious than in the past. But equally, they could be as heavy in concert as before; they were just a little more accomplished. This was, and still is, one of their most popular albums. Some saw it as the first focused effort since the debut album.

  1. “Between Blue and Me” – Gentle beginnings, and the Family sound hadn’t really sounded this clean before. Then the song propels forward with a stately dual-lead guitar line. The verses get heavy and the drums/percussion sound extra deep with reverb. It never increases in tempo, but adds strength with its layers of some brass (which sounds like bass clarinet) and some acoustic. Possibly a Chappo-on-bass song? Poli on bongos? And it all sounds great in the lowered “D” key. Roger Houdaille pointed out that the main riff of the double-lead section sounds VERY similar to a section of King Crimson’s “Fallen Angel”!
  2. “Sat’d-y Barfly” – Kind of a barstool commentary, completely soaked. The drooping horn section and tuba (french horn?), used on a good bit of this album, really adds to the feel of the song. Some out-of-place synth-effects and maracas, too. By this time, the band was stretching out and could emulate a number of styles without losing the Family stamp. Poli’s double pianos make up most of this song, and it’s easy to forget how good he was! This saloon number, with the out-of-tune pianos, seems like something of a precursor of the final album. Like most songs, it was done with a harder edge in concert.
  3. “Larf and Sing” – This is a strange little song written by Palmer, and features Wetton’s first vocal appearance. The main melody is like a weird Santana take-off: clean, muted guitars and a variety of percussion in the back. But the verses are certainly not Afro-Cuban. Very British. I always chuckle when the chorus comes in… Barbershop Family.
  4. “Spanish Tide” – This song really grows on you after many listenings. Melancholy tune, with delicate 12-string and harpsichord (electric?) mixed together, and a hint of lap-steel guitar in the back. Chapman sings a couple of lines, and then we are hit with the powerful mix of Chapman/Wetton, which really shows confidence. Unusual riff leading to the main section with drums. Voices are controlled but still rough-edged. Wetton takes a couple of lines on his own, and Chapman comes in for icing on the cake. Then a good-old vibes solo, just to remind us that Palmer is still part of the band. Back to the basic opening theme and fade… Possibly the first appearance of Charlie Whitney’s lap-steel, something that he expanded on in the Streetwalkers years. Dennis Mahon notes on the Official Wetton Page that the line “The brightest ring around the moon will darken…” shows up in a slightly different form 10 years later in the Asia chart-hit “Only Time Will Tell”.
  5. “Save Some for Thee” – The mixture of Chapman and Wetton’s voices was a stroke of genius. Too bad it didn’t make them filthy rich. Wetton’s strong contrast in singing gave the band another dimension that they didn’t even need. This song stood out the most when I first heard the album, I think due to the upbeat piano riff, the return of the swinging trombone section, and the trade-off of lines between the two singers. Nice percussion added in the background, too. A pickin’-n-grinnin’ solo precedes a slow bridge of only horns and reflective Chapman; then it returns to the bouncing verses. A marching band finale complete with whistle, snare and bass drum, and horns wraps it up. A quality tune.
  6. “Take Your Partners” – Every time this starts, I think it’s going to be an instrumental. Reverse drums, then bass, synthesizer, wah-wah electric piano, and a riffing guitar line. Each ingredient could make for the permutations of a good jam. But Chapman’s in the back, just itching to sing something. Some electric piano glissandos adds some good effect, (a bizarre relative of the song “Love is a Sleeper”). The verses come in, and the rhythm really stutters with each phrase. Some strange chords (how do they come up with these?!), and the hints of the standard jam to come. A sax section backs up the band for a few bars, and the first riff comes back. Poli’s electronic experimentation in Family tunes begins to take off (something he was later dismissed for), and the wah electric piano is certainly a sign of the jazz-rock times. I love air-drumming to the verses!
  7. “Children” – A straight-forward acoustic number. If Family decided to reform, they would have PLENTY of material for their Unplugged concert. This song traces back to 1970’s A Song For Me, where the first lines are printed on the back as “Song For You.” Excellent vocal harmonies which build each time around. It’s nice how the “stomp” drops out to let verses be gently picked. Some good la-la-la’s finish the song… not as syrupy as other bands though, because…
  8. “Crinkley Grin” – This song is about a minute long, and just plain weird. An instrumental led by vibes, it is obviously a Palmer composition. With heavy bass line and horns. There’s so much going on, it never feels like a short song.
  9. “Blind” – This tune featured Chapman swinging a plastic pipe over his head to get that strange wind sound. Easy-paced stomping and heavy strumming by a low-tuned guitar in 3/4 time. Probably Chapman’s heaviest singing on this album really straining and almost painful. Some vibes and lap-steel guitar, and oh how could I forget, a break into bagpipes? Nah, it’s got to be flute. Things kinda die down while everything settles and fades…
  10. “Burning Bridges” – Another mini-epic to close an album, sort of like “Lives and Ladies”. Slightly grand but not too dynamic. Sparse picking at the beginning (electric mandolin?), then double-tracked Chapman and more guitars. Slow tempo, but dark with the unapproving lyrical stance. The bass, vibes and drums come in more, and acoustic and electric guitars wash under and through the whole thing. Many textured lines, including traditional mandolin picking. There is also a strange solo… lap steel, perhaps? It thickens up a bit at the end with the bass, and it fades out.

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