by Jeff Fiedler
Albums from the Lost & Found is a regular feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Jeff Fiedler reviews and helps us rediscover great pop albums that seem to have been lost to time.
Unlike Electronic and Arcadia, the members of Fun Boy Three hadn’t had any Top 40 success in America with their former band (though they had received just enough attention to garner an appearance as musical guest on Saturday Night Live), but they were huge in their native England: Terry Hall, Neville Staple, and Lynval Golding had been members of the critically-beloved ska band The Specials. The splinter group made a splash in the U.K. with their self-titled debut, which yielded three U.K. Top 20 hits, including the Top Five hit “It Ain’t What You Do (It’s the Way That You Do It),” a duet with Bananarama, who’d return the favor by inviting Fun Boy Three to join them on their own U.K. Top Five single “Really Saying Something.”
For their second album, 1983’s Waiting, the trio unexpectedly brought in Talking Heads frontman David Byrne to produce – not an altogether left-field move, considering that Byrne had already dabbled in production work by helming the B-52s EP Mesopotamia.
Waiting opens with what is perhaps – in America, at least – the most famous song Terry Hall ever wrote, a co-write with former girlfriend Jane Wiedlin that her own band, the Go-Go’s, had already had a massive American hit with two years earlier, “Our Lips Are Sealed.” Fun Boy Three’s rendition is distinctly different, though, swapping the sugary pop sound of the Go-Go’s arrangement for an almost tribal-like, world-music-oriented flavor, making Byrne – who’d, of course, brought world music to the mainstream via the Talking Heads’ Remain in Light – a fitting producer for the cut. Rock buffs in America are much more likely to prefer Hall’s own understated-but-undeniably-groovy rendition to the more famous Go-Go’s version, but it sadly went unnoticed here in the U.S., though Hall’s recording was a far greater success than the original in the U.K. and made it all the way to #7 on the British singles chart.
The versatile trio dabbles elsewhere in all kinds of styles, from the rock tango of “Tunnel of Love” (another U.K. Top Ten hit), the disco beats of “The Pressure of Life (Takes Weight Off the Body),” the reggae stylings of “The Farm Yard Connection,” the galloping ballad “Things We Do,” the fun bouncy piano instrumental “Murder She Said,” the Style Council-like “We’re Having All the Fun,” and the album-closing waltz “Well Fancy That!”
It’s a vast assortment of sounds, to say the least, but it does oddly hold together quite well as an album, and while it’s easy to see why the disc (which peaked at #104 on the Billboard Top 200) was not a bigger American hit – the bulk of the album is too quirky and too distinctly British to have really fit in all that well on U.S. airwaves at the time, though why “Our Lips Are Sealed” didn’t attract more notice is anyone’s guess – it’s still a fine and well-crafted full-length that deserved a better fate on these shores.
Though the trio would split up following the release of Waiting, Hall (who had spent the remainder of the ‘80s and ‘90s playing in an assortment of short-lived bands, most prominently the duo Vegas, a collaboration with the Eurythmics’ Dave Stewart), Staple, and Golding would all meet up again in 2008 as part of a reunited Specials. Staple would leave the reunited legendary ska band in 2013, but Hall and Golding continue to tour with the group.