One of the most intriguing yet underrated new wave bands of the '80s, England's The Fixx nevertheless enjoyed considerable success and acclaim during the decade. However, the group's cerebral and challenging pop/rock includes far more than just a handful of hit songs, as quality album tracks abound within the band's steady output. Here's a chronological look at my personal list of the top '80s songs produced by The Fixx.
Prior to its 1982 debut album, Shuttered Room, The Fixx released (as The Portraits) two interesting but clearly formative non-LP singles, most notably the bouncy and playful (but goofy) "Hazards in the Home." However, the band didn't fully establish its signature sound until this, the second single from its first record. Although only a very modest pop hit in the major English-speaking markets of the world, "Stand or Fall" set the tone for The Fixx's consistent impact as a U.S. mainstream rock chart staple. Defined by a haunting guitar riff from Jamie West-Oram and the politically charged, cerebral lyrics of frontman Cy Curnin, this fine track clearly qualifies as the first great single in the solid career of The Fixx.
2. "Red Skies"
The Fixx quickly became known for writing cautionary, perhaps even paranoid rock songs, and this slightly ominous track certainly helped set that pattern. West-Oram's lively lead guitar style, combined with his use of echo and harmonics, perfectly complements the keyboard lines of Rupert Greenall. In addition, Curnin's strong vocals dominate the proceedings, even if the tune's spare minimalist lyrics project a rather non-specific attitude of nagging concern. At its best, the music of The Fixx is largely about atmosphere, but don't let that fool you into thinking the band's compositions lack substance.
The heightened success of 1983's Reach the Beach in the U.S. (unfortunately, the band's native U.K. largely ignored the band by this time) established The Fixx as a genuine pop music threat. In fact, that record's lead-off single, "Saved By Zero," casts an intoxicating spell on the listener that would often characterize the band's future output as well. Layered keyboards anchor the song's arrangement, and again Curnin is able to intrigue and challenge with very few words. Cryptic or not, this tune boasts an iconic verse melody and an absolutely mysterious chorus phrase that music fans are surely still trying to decode.
The Fixx undoubtedly enjoyed its biggest hit with this '80s pop classic, but it also happens to be a relentlessly compelling piece of music. West-Oram scores again with an ingenious guitar riff, one strong enough to serve as the song's foundation throughout the single's lean three-minute-plus playing time. Always sporting a tendency to use its blend of synth and guitar to forge a robotic, mechanical sound, the band particularly takes that path here, employing blips and bleeps at will to dress up an already imposing song. Curnin's rhythmic syllabic experiments also work incredibly well.
While The Fixx has never been particularly linked to the Goth rock movement of the '80s, there is much about the band's music that sounds quite Gothic. At times, in fact, Greenall's keyboard strains that line West-Oram's guitar fills on this track feel like they should be coming out of an organ housed deep in the orifices of a cobweb-laden castle dungeon. Curnin's murky lyrics and impassioned vocal style also fit perfectly into the general Fixx niche of ghostly serious, complex pop-rock. In some cases, a band's most well-known songs are not necessarily its most distinctive. In the case of The Fixx, iconic tracks are all worthy of their adulation, though that's only part of the story.
The keen ability of The Fixx to analyze and comment upon the state of the modern world has always related directly to the band's decision to emphasize mechanical, industrial and robotic sounds within the breadth of their melodies and typically rendered use of conventional instruments like guitar and keyboards. Such a vision is certainly at play on this stunning track, which appeared originally in 1984 on the soundtrack to the cult film Streets of Fire. "I see the edge I look I fall" thus functions as an applicable metaphor for Curnin's ambiguously searching lyrical concerns. Brilliance.
On the other hand, a deep album track like this one from 1984's Phantoms LP simply serves as a showcase for this skilled quintet's obsession with the sheer beauty that can be drawn from pure melody, nuanced electric guitars, and Curnin's own most important instrument, his exquisite voice. A line like "Your wish is my sentence" yields far more emotional energy than it does concrete meaning, and that's perfectly fine within the mesmerizing power of this great song. If all other selections for this list have not already proven it, this track certainly puts on display the depths of versatility and artistry that define The Fixx.
Perhaps the most purely transcendent of all The Fixx's '80s offerings (and there's certainly an argument to be had there), this song deserved far more than to be yet another modest but soon forgotten hit on the pop charts. In fact, even its top spot on the U.S. mainstream rock charts in 1986 was a tiny sliver of recognition that's almost an insult to how great the track actually is. As a band, The Fixx carefully recorded albums of emotionally honest and intellectually challenging music. That the group shared chart space with mere pop and rock "artists" is something with which admirers of The Fixx will never become comfortable.
9. "Driven Out"
In addition to the powerful guitar foundation that so forcefully characterizes this track, Curnin's socially conscious lyrics take on a far more direct, almost desperate tone than ever before. That move away from the abstract may or may not be a conscious one, but when this song came out on The Fixx LP Calm Animals in 1989, I certainly remember that in the world generalized chaos and unease were painfully tactile. Of course, approaching 18, I didn't yet realize that the tempest would merely grow from there. There's a maturity to this track not generally found in rock music, especially that made by artists similarly earnest in their search for truth. During the '80s, The Fixx often made meaningful rock music as well as anyone.