Phantoms (1984): The Fixx

Of the bands that hit in the 1980s, The Fixx managed to carve out a unique sound and chart success that last through the decade.

The Fixx should have enjoyed the massive success of U2, R.E.M., The Police or Bon Jovi.

A-86074-1519134732-3012.jpegSong for song during the decade, The Fixx matched up with U2, they had similar styles and unique sonic textures. U2 evolved and caught a tsunami that audiences and MTV rode. The Fixx found less success and were unable to change the direction of music, which bands like U2 did.

The Fixx and U2 were contemporaries in the early 1980s and I found them at the same time. That’s partially why I talk about them in the same sentence. Cy Curnin and Bono were equally dynamic vocalists. Each band had a signature sound, The Fixx with Jamie West-Oram on guitar and Rupert Greenall on synthesizer, and The Edge on guitar. Each had a spacey, echoing sound common to 1980s bands, but they went beyond that, each developing something unique around their strengths.

Phantom was the band’s third album, although not as successful as Reach the Beach, their previous album, it’s a much more complete set.

The band used dynamic synthesizer soundscapes to set a mood, then the guitar with echo and other effects provided a lonely, distant ringing as a counterpoint to the synth.

MV5BMDEwYTk5M2EtYTc4Yi00YzFjLThhMmQtMzQ3MjkyYjJlNmM5XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyMjUyNDk2ODc@._V1_UY317_CR51,0,214,317_AL_On Reach the Beach, “Saved By Zero” has a driving groove by the bass and guitar while Greenall’s synth painted the song with textures.

Similarly, “One Thing Leads to Another” starts fast with a guitar riff and the sound shifts into a fast groove that never slows down. It’s a quirky, bouncing rhythm that never lets up, perfect for club dancing.

Both of these songs are infectious, impossible to resist, and set the bar very high for repeat business.

R-732770-1307686128.jpegReach the Beach had bigger hits but some weaker tracks than Phantoms. There’s no filler on Phantoms. The album peaked at number 19, not as high as its predecessor.

All tracks are written by Dan K. Brown, Cy Curnin, Rupert Greenall, Jamie West-Oram, and Adam Woods, except where noted.

No.    Title     Writer(s)     Length

1. “Lose Face” 3:03  A guitar riff moves the song with a bass line establishing a rhythm, the guitar is all over this song.  Curnin layers his vocals nicely.

2. “Less Cities, More Moving People” 3:53  Bass and drums establish a marching rhythm, the guitar chugs along, an irresistible groove.  One of the best songs on the set.

3. “Sunshine in the Shade” Brown, Curnin, R. Greenall, P. Greenall, West-Oram, Woods 2:26  Another guitar riff, quirky bass line, that launches into a creative beat.  Infectious melody, and a rare guitar solo.  The song moves into various chord and style changes and clocks in under three minutes.  A lot of energy is barely any time.

4. “Woman on a Train” Brown, Curnin, Greenall, Jeannette Obstoj, West-Oram, Woods 3:56  A pounding beat with some nice bass movement that Curnin lays his vocals over.  A mid tempo song with guitar and syn textures on the choruses.  None of this is overpowering.  Nice percussion work.

5. “Wish” 4:08  A gentle, mid tempo ballad, with swirling, ringing guitar.  Falsetto Curnin vocals.  Great melody.

6. “Lost in Battle Overseas” 4:10  An uptempo song.  A very 1980s sounding song with an industrial sound.  One of the less interesting songs on the album.

7. “Question” 3:26  Heavy beat and chugging guitar.  Curnin’s vocals take spotlight.  It would be better with fewer synth effects.  Sounds a bit dated.

8. “In Suspense”  3:45  Very creative guitar work, spacey synth background.  The Fixx can sound very INXS-like in their guitar riffing. West-Oram really tears it up.  He must have four different layers of guitar ringing and riffing in and out of the song.  Very creative production.

9. “Facing the Wind”  3:20  Slow building synth and bass groove, with ringing guitar echoing in and out.  One of the best songs on the album. This is a prototype Fixx sound. Greenall’s synth creates an ethereal background texture.

10. “Are We Ourselves?”  2:27 one of the best songs on the album, with a funky groove, heavy percussion and great harmony. The Fixx excelled at these quirky riffs that quickly change direction and speed off down the highway.  Great melody, excellent song, this should have been a bigger chart hit.  Try and resist moving your foot to this track, or your entire body. I dare you.

11. “I Will”  3:54   A slow and thoughtful song, as close as the group gets to a ballad. A sweet melody and soulful Curnin vocal.  Beautiful piano work.  Typically great bass work.

12. “Phantom Living” 3:50  More of a typical 80s sound, bathed in echo and processed sound.  A slow, spacey sound.  It has its moments but not one of the greater songs on the album.

Total length: 41:52

The album was produced by The Fixx with Rupert Hine (Rush, Tina Turner, Howard Jones, Stevie Nicks), who worked with them during the 1980s. Hine was one of the most successful producers of the era.

Many albums of this time period are drenched in 80s production, to the point of being un-listenable.  For the most part, this album avoids it.  The Fixx and Hine create a pallet of great sounding songs, uniquely textured and beats that do not duplicate.  The bass work, along with the percussion are superb.  Dan K. Brown gets an MVP award for his bass playing.  Next to West-Oram’s guitar, these two guys deserve credit for coming up with so many fascinating grooves, each distinctive from the others.

The Fixx was like a blending of INXS and U2, the power of The Fixx was in their time signature and rhythmic beat patters, mainly from Brown’s bass and West-Oram’s rhythmic guitar playing.  Brown would leave the band in a couple of year, which I think was part of the band losing its popularity and creativity.  Brown would rejoin the band and is with them today.

West-Oram has never gotten credit for his unique style of composition and playing.  Listen closely to any Fixx song and you’ll marvel at his guitar effects and his layering of both rhythm and lead parts.

Curnin is also an overlooked singer, lost with the other boyish vocalists of the 1980s, but Curnin has gotten better through the decade as his voice has gained some maturity without losing range.

The Fixx are one of my all-time 1980s groups.  They still occasionally record new music but continue to tour.

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