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Those who only remember the Fixx for their ‘80s hits will be pleasantly surprised by their latest release, Beautiful Friction. The album moves away from the musical pop hooks such as what Jamie West-Oram was able to create in songs like “Saved by Zero,” “One Thing Leads to Another,” or “Red Skies at Night” toward a new maturity that layers the guitars in a less angular way. The songs are no less political than they were during the Fixx’s heyday, but they are executed in a way that forgoes the pressure to have a hit in favor of greater depth.The lead single, “Anyone Else,” is pure anthem in musical style but more oblique in lyrical substance. But what it lacks in a overt message is patently clear in the video.
“Just Before Dawn” is a wonderfully neo-psychedelic tune that showcases the fact that the band is stretching beyond what they are known for, and reaching for a denser sound that allows the group explore new styles — and Cy Curnin to sing in a more subdued way.
The Fixx were never known as rockers (with a hard edge), but on “Take a Risk” they really rip it up in a way that harkens back to a post-punk sound of the late ‘70s/early ‘80s. The album continues to deliver on surprises with the title track that has Curnin singing in a falsetto over a mid-tempo groove that has elements of reggae and a delicate guitar hook from West-Oram.
However, Beautiful Friction does gets bogged down in the middle of the album with fillers like “Second Time Around” and “Follow that Cab.” But the band redeems themselves toward the end with “Shaman” and “Girl with No Ceiling.” Nevertheless, these are small quibbles in an otherwise very strong album by the Fixx. The sheer maturity of their playing shows these guys haven’t rested on their laurels after they stopped headlining arenas in favor of smaller venues (hell, I remember when they played the Santa Cruz beach boardwalk a couple of summers in a row). Yes, the hits pay the bills (and it’s generally what most audiences want to hear when a group like the Fixx rolls into town), but to hear how well the band is playing, and how Cy Curnin’s voice has matured in a delightful way, is something one shouldn’t forego just to hear their songs that make you want to turn up the collar on your polo shirt, slip into your parachute pants and do that ‘80s dance.