A Look At Let’s Active’s Sublime Second Album

I.R.S. Records ‎| US | CD | 1986 | IRSD-5703

I.R.S. Records ‎| US | CD | 1986 | IRSD-5703

Let’s Active: Big Plans For Everybody US CD [1986]

  1. In Little Ways
  2. Talking To Myself
  3. Writing The Book of Last Pages
  4. Last Chance Town
  5. Won’t Go Wrong
  6. Badger
  7. Fell
  8. Still Dark Out
  9. Whispered News
  10. Reflecting pool
  11. Route 67

I was an early convert to the charms of Mitch Easter’s Let’s Active. What with R.E.M. being worshipped like gods in my old hometown of Orlando, the spotlight spilled over to their producer Mitch Easter, and I found I enjoyed his work far more. I bought their “Afoot” EP and rode their bus until it stopped in 199?. The pure pop of the EP gave way to subtler, Southern Gothic Pop on their “Cypress” full length but at the end of that period, news arrived that 2/3 of the band, the XX-chromosome-packing members, had left. I had wondered if Easter would soldier on or it that had been it.

lets-active-inlittlewaysuk7a

When “Big Plans For Everybody” appeared, I bought it immediately and saw that Easter was fully capable of piloting the S.S. Let’s Active all by himself. Seriously! I am to this day floored by the sheer gorgeousness of this song. Its profound pleasures have yet to dim in 31 years of immensely pleasurable listening. It simply possesses the most heartbreakingly magnificent melody I’ve ever heard. Period. The achingly emotional chord sequence of the verses are matched by the simple majesty of the piano solo on the song’s fadeout. Never have so few notes had such an impact. It’s very difficult not to listen to this song on repeat for several hours, but I am trying to moderate its powerful essence throughout my lifespan. This song has mystical powers to my ears.

The rest of the program exists on a more earthly plane, but what a great one it is in any case. “Writing The Book of Last Pages” besides the great title, dips its toes [up to the shins, actually] into psychedelic waters as one of the numbers here that reveal Easter as a fan of Beatlesque psychedelia. Actually, Easter’s vocals probably exist on a continuum somewhere between John Lennon and Clare Grogan, if you can believe that.

“Won’t Go Wrong” has rich orchestration and killer slide guitar that reminds me of some Led Zeppelin track I heard in the late 70s, during my brief FM Rock period. For years, I thought it might be a song on “In Through the Out Door,” but a playback of the iTunes samples revealed that I am far off the target with that album. Nevertheless, the feel was familiar. Proof that The Mission and The Cult were not the only “college rock” era bands dipping into the Zeppelin bag of tricks, but only Easter could do it without also assuming the Zep mantle of grotesque machismo and bluster common to both the mothership and its more typical satellites.

I love the gentle, acoustic melancholy of “Badger,” which reaches full flowering at its midpoint, where the deliciously mid-70s guitars begin to kick in and take the song places. “Fell” almost seemed out of place on the album, as it was a throwback to the earlier Let’s Active sound. It actually finds the midpoint between “Cypress” and the bulk of this album and would have made perfect sense as a non-LP single released in advance of this album.

There’s more Page/Jones mojo at work here. “Still Dark Out,” which had then girlfriend Angie Carlson on keys, managed to tap the cinematic vibe in the more interesting Zeppelin tunes and even did so at nearly six minutes! Making it the longest Let’s Active song ever. As an antidote to this moody Pageism, the stop-start melody of “Whispered News” was a step back from the Zep cliff into more typical Easter territory.

Finally, the batty instrumental closer “Route 67” was the showcase for some wild slide guitar solos from Easter, so far out of the “janglepop” ghetto that the artist had learned to expect by that time! The juxtaposition of sampled drums [not even a drum machine] and his reckless abandon on the slide got on like a house on fire! There’s not a single other Let’s Active number that burns this hot.

Every time I pop this one on to listen to, it’s a pure pleasure, always reminding me why I value Mitch Easter. I played this the other night while we were making dinner and my wife thought for a moment that it was Richard Barone, which is understandable. The two titans of proto-New Wave pop were cut from a similar cloth. It’s to my eternal delight, that I finally saw Let’s Active in concert during the tour for this album, back in 1986 – opening up for R.E.M. I could bask in the glory of “In Little Ways” live and in person, and almost as great, they encored with Deep Purple’s version of Joe South’s “Hush!” I last saw Mitch Easter several years back when he was touring behind his one solo album, “Dynamico.” While I’d also seen “Let’s Active” on their “Every Dog Has Its Day” tour in 1990, three times is a bit less than I’d like under my belt when it comes to Mitch Easter.

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About postpunkmonk

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6 Responses to A Look At Let’s Active’s Sublime Second Album

  1. Brian says:

    Mitch is such a genius on both sides of the glass. One of my biggest heroes. So happy we have this one in common, Monk.

    Like

  2. I attended a Mitch Easter solo show in O-town many moons ago (at what is currently called The Social) and enjoyed it thoroughly — even more so when I had a chance to chat with him afterwards! Lovely man and great music!

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    • postpunkmonk says:

      chasinvictoria – Was that when you still lived there? I thought he only toured after the release of his solo album, “Dynamico” was released in 2007. Hmm. It could have been before you moved away.

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  3. Mr. Ware says:

    I attended that same show with Chas. Yes, a superb evening. My favorite memory is when Chas pulled out was then his brand new iPhone 1.0 and took a picture of me and Mitch.

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  4. SimonH says:

    I picked up Cypress thanks to a great review in Melody Maker and loved it. When Big Plans came out I bought it in the first week of release and at first I remember finding it too smooth compared to Cyprus, but thankfully I quickly came to my senses and ended up loving it as well.
    In Little Ways is a gorgeous song as you say, funny so few people have probably heard it!
    Will be playing this today, thanks for the prompt.

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