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Biographies: The Fixx

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Reviewer: Iluvthe80s

Perusing the shelves of record stores is a little like counting the rings of a tree, or strolling through a mausoleum, viewing the countless fallen artists and bands, dead due to anything from a rock 'n roll lifestyle to a change in musical fads. Those artists who had the ingenuity and perseverance to survive whatever "movement" first brought them attention have borne fruit, adding ring after ring in their tree trunk. Those that died young are forever embalmed, R.I.P. The Fixx, happily, are still adding rings to their already sturdy trunk.
The Fixx, originally based in London, were first introduced to a mass audience in 1982, with their debut album, Shuttered Room. A collection of their best work to that point, it stood in stark contrast to most of the other New Wave albums of the time, with its tight musicianship and dark political overtones. Though the band held to some tenets of the New Wave, such as short songs devoid of solos and no fear of synthesizers and cavernous soundscapes, their cohesiveness as a rock band was made credible by their live performances. Despite the album not receiving a full marketing push in the U.S., the videos for "Stand or Fall" and "Red Skies" were played heavily by MTV (then in its infancy) and became anthems for yet another generation fed up with the cold war. Later in the year The Fixx performed on Long Island for the King Biscuit Flower Hour. The concert, recently made available on cd, served as a showcase for their special brand of dynamic minimalism.

Not long after, in 1983, Reach the Beach was released and immediately took off in the U.S., led by its catchy single, "One Thing Leads to Another," and later "Saved by Zero." No sophomore slump, the album was a logical growth from their first effort, showcasing singer Cy Curnin's unorthodox vocals and Jamie West-Oram's rhythm-driven guitar against the tight rhythm section of Adam Woods (drums) and Alfie Agius (bass; would later be replaced by Dan K. Brown,) all complemented by the synthesizer stylings of Rupert Greenall. The album cemented their style, taking the tired art-rock credo of dark theatrical soundscapes and filtering it through their own unique sensibilities. Generous airplay and a full U.S. tour garnered the band a large following.

Phantoms was released in 1984, and still seems to be the favorite of the band and many of its fans. Packed with twelve songs from sessions that also spawned several fan favorite out-takes and the single "Deeper and Deeper" from the Streets of Fire soundtrack, this album found the band in an especially productive mode, carrying them across a wider range of styles than on their previous albums. Still undeniably Fixx, the songs on this album seem a little less angry, more tempered with maturity and diverse in its style. Melody takes more prominence on this record, and several songs, particularly "I Will" and "Wish," are downright soulful. "Are We Ourselves" and "Sunshine in the Shade" were released as singles, and while the album's sales were by all means respectable, the band's label, MCA, had set unrealistic expectations for sales after the phenomenal success of their previous effort. Thus began troubles with record labels.

The band's next effort, Walkabout, arrived in 1986. Perhaps the most spiritual of Fixx albums, this work saw more of Curnin's soulful melody, and West-Oram's guitar took on a less frenetic and more droning, hypnotic quality, shared by Greenall's relaxed keyboards. The downshift in tempo led to a more introspective, contemplative mode of listening, particularly for "Treasure It," and "Camphor." "Secret Separation," unique in that the lyrics were not written by Curnin but by Jeannette Obstoj, a friend of the band, is an unabashed love song, unusual for the band, but its poetic lyrics keep it from degenerating into the trite kind of love song the band has steadfastly avoided. Throughout the album, the band's usual stark warnings were unusually well balanced with a new optimism, a sense of hope. This was most evident to the lucky listeners who happened to buy one of the compact disc versions that had a hidden track at the end, the heartfelt plea "Do What You Can." While "Secret Separation" received a good deal of airplay and the album sold well, as with Phantoms, MCA was unhappy with its modest sales.

React, released in 1987, was the band's last effort for MCA. Consisting of three new songs--each a solid effort--and a collection of live versions of their best-known singles, this album came off as a last-ditch effort to settle contractual obligations before moving on to a new label.

RCA signed The Fixx in short order, and the result was Calm Animals in 1988. This album found the band picking up the tempo again, with West-Oram's guitar more prominent in the mix and Woods and Brown taking a more aggressive, driving, and perhaps dance-influenced approach overall. "Driven Out" received a good deal of airplay, and "Precious Stone" (with lyrics by Woods, a.k.a. Madman) was also released. The band's songwriting and arrangements were as accomplished as ever, but in retrospect the album seems a little strained, as though some of its songs were force-fitted into a rough, edgy style not quite suited to them. Apparently, RCA also refused to take a realistic approach to marketing the band, as this was The Fixx's only effort for the label.

Their next album would not come until 1991, after signing with Impact, an imprint of MCA. It was the subversively titled Ink, featuring portraits of the band done up in corporate attire. The album was a schizophrenic product, as a result of the label pairing up the band with songwriters for the first (and last) time. Some of the songs were highly effective extensions of unfettered Fixx, such as "Shut it Out," "Yesterday, Today," and "One Jungle." Others succumbed to the influence of outside songwriters, such as "Falling in Love.," and "Crucified." And while these may be entirely listenable, to the die-hard fans these were sticks in the spokes, corporate attempts at pimping The Fixx to the pop charts. Not surprisingly, the band seems to have retained a bad taste from the Ink sessions to this day. "How Much is Enough" garnered some airplay. This was their only effort for Impact.

Why no record label realized The Fixx had made a niche for themselves as a rock band with a steady following is beyond reckoning. Instead of coming up with an adequate marketing plan in the vein of bands like Rush, executives kept trying to push The Fixx as a mega-selling arena pop band, clearly a misguided idea. It would be several years on hiatus before the members of the band ultimately decided their hearts had been in the right place after all. But this time, they were determined to make their music on their own terms.

After spending some time writing and recording new music, the band released a limited issue demo cd in 1997, Happy Landings, most of the songs on which eventually appeared on the album Elemental in 1998, from CMC International. The band had always carried a progressive attitude into the recording of each album, growing a little each time, and their time off before the recording of this album apparently meant more growth than usual. Not quite like any other Fixx recording, Elemental finds them older, wiser, but with more power and incisiveness than ever before. The band stripped down in some ways, utilizing more acoustical equipment and less echo than usual, bringing the band in from their usual sonic distance and placing them in your living room, by turns more intimate and more threatening. "Going Without" and "Happy Landings" speak as an estranged friend welcomed back from exile, while "Fatal Shore" and "We Once Held Hands" whisper as a societal subconscious come to remind of the menacing undercurrents that still flow. For The Fixx, maturity hasn't meant a staleness or nostalgia as it has for so many other artists. Instead, maturity has bestowed a mastery of all the best elements of their work, and allowed them to expand and grow further. Indeed, the best may be yet to come.

A fine companion piece was released in 1999, the two-cd set 1011 Woodland, named for the studio in which it was recorded. A re-recording of many of the band's favorite songs, at first glance it would appear to be a quick cash-in. However, The Fixx put forth an earnest effort in re-working the songs in an even more stripped down, intimate style than was used on Elemental. Each of the songs is cast in a new light, in some cases making the songs finally come together, as in "Precious Stone" and "Still Around," both of which make their previous versions pale in comparison. "Driven Out" is given more of a gritty folk-rock feel, "I Will" takes on a jaded and lazy lounge feel, and even their very first single, "Lost Planes," appears in a new and more subtle form. At the end of second cd are three concert recordings made on the Elemental tour, and though none are of the highest sonic quality, all three are infectious in their enthusiasm and are sparkling examples of the energy and commitment still felt by the band.

* Courtesy The Fixx

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