01 October 2008

The Tourists
Reality Effect US Version
Sony BMG/American Beat 2007 (original 1979)

I recently re-acquired this CD here in Victoria; I’ve owned this before in vinyl form, but sadly always the US version as far as I can recall. Unlike the UK version, the US version of Reality Effect substitutes three strong songs from their first (eponymous) album -- the hit “Loneliest Man in the World,” “Blind Among the Flowers” and “Fool's Paradise” -- cutting “Something in the Air Tonight” and “Summer Night.” On the other hand, with no CD issue of the first two “real” Tourist albums foreseen, the inferior US version remains the only way to get at least some of those songs on CD. This release is -- shockingly -- the first ever native US CD issue for this unsung (literally!) but brilliant group.

It's particularly flummoxing in light of the stellar success later enjoyed by two of the core members -- Scottish diva Annie Lennox and co-founder/guitarist Dave Steward -- as Eurythmics some years later. Normally, lesser or former labels would rush to put out a superstars' early work to cash in, but despite the moderate success The Tourists achieved on their own, this simply hasn't happened.

I'm reasonably sure my first encounter with the group was a video shown on the very very early days of MTV, probably their cover of Dusty Springfield's "I Only Want to Be With You," which was a big hit in the UK and cracked the Top 40 in the US and Top 10 in the UK. I was taken with the cover art (back in those days, you could risk a record purchase on the strength of the album art!) as well as the sound (part of a general awakening I was having regarding the strong connection of 60s rock to the "new" sound of New Wave), and got the US version and later the US third album. Later still, I found a UK copy of the first album. Still haven't managed to score a copy of the Japan-only CD issue of the third album, Luminous Basement.

Anyone who's a fan of 80s (or 60s for that matter) rock is really missing out by not knowing The Tourists, whose real genius was refreshing some of that classic Ronettes/early Who/Jefferson Airplane vibe and synthesising it into really great New Wave pop music. Although the music brains of the band was a fellow named Peet Coombes, Stewart's ace guitar stylings and Annie's soaring vocals were already carving a bigger piece of the spotlight by the time the second album came around.

Here's a good sample of the Tourists' sound, with Coombes and Lennox duetting not unlike some Balin/Slick songs of days gone by:

“Everywhere You Look” by The Tourists from Reality Effect

I really have no idea why the catchy powerpop of The Tourists failed to do better than they did, even though they were perhaps a bit early to the "New Wave" scene. Each of their albums got progressively more "rock" orientated, but it was too little too late. Coombes' introspective and psychoanalytical lyrics (an angle that would work so well with punk -- see The Wedding Present as an example!). Had they lasted a few more years, by 1983 -- the year Stewart and Lennox launched their own first single to massive success -- they would very likely have continued to chart regularly.

It all worked out fine for Lennox and Stewart, but sadly Coombes and bassist Eddie Chin were basically never heard from again. An incredible talent so fully silenced (Coombes died in 1997 from complications of the booze/drug-soaked RnR lifestyle) is a crime, and I hope that some record company somewhere has the good sense to reissue the first two Tourist albums (properly) and dig up any interviews with the man or at least license his final recordings with the band Diminished Responsibility. His sons Joey and Robin Coombes have a hip-hop group called Task Force, I'm sure they'd be happy to tell their dads' tales.

In the meantime, you can find a handful of UK TV appearances from the band on YouTube (thank goodness), catching Mr Coombes looking a lot like Liam and Noel Gallagher's older brother. To the best of my knowledge, not only are there any better copies of these appearances floating around, I'm unaware of any band that has ever done a Tourist cover song. Absolutely dumbfounding.

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