This World is Poison

Laura Nelson
7 min readOct 16, 2021

Romantic Pessimism in The Psychedelic Furs’ Book of Days

Richard Butler, “Noisymouth”, 2013

Romanticism can be edifying: a tale of the ways of Spirit-in-the-World, elaborated in Wordsworth’s chronicles of the lake district or Caspar-David Friedrich’s exhilarated man standing on a mountaintop. But too much exhilaration usually leads to disillusion, even exhaustion, and that is also part of the Romantic legacy. Pessimism as an aesthetic position might be post-Romantic, but nothing can be “post” something without a negative and positive reference back to the “pre”. For every Keats there is a Baudelaire, for every Whitman there is a Poe.

Book of Days is a brilliant album by The Psychedelic Furs, an unfairly ignored effort by a vastly underrated band. It is a vignette of what happens when Romanticism collapses into bitterness and cynicism.

Book of Days Album Cover

The Furs, especially its charismatic singer and frontman Richard Butler, have always manifested a thick Romantic streak in its characteristic songs about love and loss. The sunny side of the romantic sensibility dominated the album just before Book of Days, Midnight to Midnight. The latter was a radical sonic departure from their previous work. Dominated by saxophones, synths, and major chords, it was The Psychedelic Furs’ hesitant stab at commercial success. It was a qualified victory. Its hit anthem, “Heartbreak Beat,” might be skeptical of the idea that love can last, but it is dedicated to the proposition that while it exists, it is glorious:

There’s a heartbreak beat playin’ all night long

Down on my street

And it feels like love got the radio on

And it’s all that we need

There’s a heartbreak beat

And it feels like love

There’s a heartbreak beat

And it feels like love

In other words: no illusions, but no disillusions either.

This lightness of mood changes drastically with Book of Days, a chronicle of disillusion and the feeble ways we all cope with it. The sound of the album is at…

Laura Nelson

Writer, philosopher, information technologist,guitarist, neurotic, polite radical, avid and indiscriminate reader, Episcopalian, trans woman.