The Rea-issues #5 – Auberge (1991)


Towards the end of 2019, Warner Music’s Rhino imprint re-issued five of Chris Rea’s most successful albums – originally dating from 1986 to 1991 – as lavish 2CD sets. They were each joined by a full bonus disc of B-sides, Live recordings and outtakes from the same period.

Over the past few months, amazinglyfewdiscothequesprovidejukeboxes has covered each of these in detail, looking back at this part of his career.

We began by Dancing With Strangers, then leafed through old Shamrock Diaries, and got ourselves trapped on The Road To Hell, before finding some respite down On The Beach. With four of the five deluxe re-issues taken care of, that means there’s only one place left to go!


Released at the end of February 1991, it was of course the first new material from Chris Rea since The Road To Hell had gone quadruple-platinum. Greater success led to greater expectations; emulating its predecessor’s chart-topping achievements was duly taken care of when the album debuted at #1, but could it last the distance?

A man with much to ponder…

The Road To Hell was a darker, heavier record than we’d come to associate with Chris Rea; pretty much the only ray of light was provided by the breezy, loping Texas and its protagonist’s fantasy of jacking in the suburban nightmare for a life thousands of miles away in the sun. “They’ve got great big roads out there”.

Yes, it’s that Chris Rea thing of roads and cars again. The Road To Hell mused on how transport had the power to literally trap society in a destructive cycle with no way out. However, the theme of Auberge takes that concept and flips it over; transport and travel as a means of escape. A route to sanctuary. To freedom.

At the time, Auberge was viewed through the prism of Rea’s newfound million-selling status, and seen as a natural reaction to it. From the darkness to the light. The character stuck in his car on the M4 eventually says to himself, sod this for a game of soldiers, I’m off to the countryside. There’s a better life than this.

While much of this is doubtless true, what the majority of us weren’t aware of was that both albums were created simultaneously. In 1989, unsure of WEA’s reaction to an angry concept album railing at the evils of the media and modern world, Rea had offered up Auberge as a plan B if things went awry. He need not have worried.

In retrospect, it’s more obvious that the two albums are of a piece. What seemed to be a repeat of the Road To Hell formula – Side One is the concept piece, Side Two the commercial singles-in-waiting – is now revealed to be simply the same idea executed with the opposite theme. Auberge can thus be seen as an equal, rather than a lightweight sequel.


Soaking up the pressure in 1991: “Gonna Buy A Hat, ‘Cos I Think It’s Gonna Rain…”


Matters get off to a strong start with the title track, an excellent Rea single with its trademark guitar motif and parping horns, the vocals imbued with a nice of sense of urgent desperation as the tune recalls the best of Dancing With Strangers; namely, I Can’t Dance To That and Gonna Buy A Hat, with the easy swing of Let’s Dance thrown in for good measure. It’s a throwback, certainly, but it re-establishes the black humour and wry observation that always characterised his work before The Road To Hell took a more direct approach. The album version takes a long time to get going (a little too long!) but it was all part of Rea’s habit for making albums as a soundtrack to a film inside his head. And the films would never get made!

So far, so good…but in truth, the rest of Auberge is a mixed bag. In 1991, I was eager to embrace this album, and aspects of its sound and especially its artwork felt more akin to the Chris Rea that I’d (belatedly) discovered in 1986, and who had become one of my favourite artists by the time of New Light Through Old Windows two years later.

Some of it is undeniably good; Set Me Free – the big closing number on Side One – explodes from a stately ballad into a sublime coda of slide guitar, driving rhythms and swirling strings. Looking For The Summer is pretty enough, one of those gently shuffling mid-tempo efforts that he patented as far back as the On The Beach album, and You’re Not A Number is about as roused as Rea gets on the entire record.

And yet…it all has an air of familiarity. Over-familiarity, even. There are too many slow tracks, with Side Two almost flat-lining from an overwhelming lack of variation in tone or tempo (having said that, And You My Love is just a little bit gorgeous).

One hit, two misses: the singles campaign for the album came up against the same old problems. This time, WEA found a solution by relaunching Auberge with a brand new track, Winter Song.

Though it understandably sold well at first, Auberge failed to yield another Top 40 hit single to maintain its profile (I wasn’t keen on the choice of Heaven as second single, but WEA must have known what they were doing!). Come the early autumn, the album got a timely boost courtesy of a relaunch in a fancy new “racing green” sleeve and the addition of Winter Song, which had just made #27 on the UK Singles Chart.

Winter Song was superior to the ballads on the original album, but still had that air of “been there, done that” with its echoes of past glories. In its favour, the arrangement brought to mind the late 70s work of Randy Newman, always a plus in my book.


This reboot at least put Auberge back in the race for the lucrative pre-Christmas market, if not ultimately taking the album any further than merely double-platinum status. 600,000 units shipped, and I’m talking about it as though it was some sort of failure!

It was becoming apparent that, rather than being the new Dire Straits, as some less charitable observers were constantly suggesting, Chris Rea was probably more like a new Van Morrison. Auberge, more than any other album of his up to that point, bore the hallmarks of an artist preoccupied with a set of recurring themes, musical and lyrical. New albums were less an assault on the charts, or an orchestrated campaign to achieve superstardom, than updated and refined variations on those themes.


In keeping with the others in the series, this 2CD deluxe edition comes in a clear hinged jewelcase; unlike Dancing With Strangers and Shamrock Diaries the original artwork is used. The main album is also restored to just 11 tracks, with Winter Song placed on the disc of bonus material.

Speaking of which, the second CD does a decent job of rounding up all the B-sides from Auberge‘s three singles and the Winter Song EP tracks. A mixture of non-album songs (mostly instrumental) and Live recordings from Rea’s 1991 tour, they are somewhat underwhelming; the creative restlessness and invention that had often been tucked away on the flip sides of his singles (particularly the period between 1985 and 1987) is not so apparent.

The uptempo efforts (such as Six Up) merely recall the driving rock of Working On It, the languid instrumentals (Hudson’s Dream, Theme From The Pantile Journal) come across as pleasant but unremarkable revisions of earlier sun-kissed noodlings (Danielle’s Breakfast, Bless Them All). This is Chris Rea on autopilot. The 1988 version of Josephine from New Light Through Old Windows also turns up here, by virtue of being one of the three old tracks used on the CD single format of Heaven.

Auberge, then, is perhaps not the strongest entry in the Rea canon (and is arguably the least fascinating of the five in this deluxe series), but it has its moments. The single mix of the title track (helpfully included on CD2) and Set Me Free remain personal highlights, along with And You My Love. Having tried something different, and risky, with The Road To Hell, it was no bad thing to revert to type with a gentler and more familiar batch of songs. The two albums work perfectly as counterpoints to each other.

What next, though? Could he avoid any potential banana skins in his quest to keep up the commercial momentum through the 1990s?



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