Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Review: Cy Curnin, Solar Minimum (

"New wave" bands sometimes get a bad rap, but anyone who put his or her wine cooler down for 5 minutes back in the 80's knows there was a lot more to The Fixx than skinny dudes running from barking Dobermans in a white tunnel while singing "One Thing Leads to Another." No, these guys had some heavy-duty stuff on their collective brows, from nuclear annihilation to self-alienation to the struggle to find inner peace - and they did it all while dodging models in red dresses falling through the skylight.

More than 25 years later, the Fixx are still at it, and while they may not be as prolific as they once were or enjoy the same level of chart success they once did, they have defied the naysayers and remained true to their artistic vision of funky rock songs as the ongoing soundtrack to man's search for enlightenment and serenity in a seriously f'ed up cosmos.

Meanwhile, Cy Curnin, lead singer and chief lyricist for the band, has vented some of his excess creative steam by releasing a series of superb solo albums over the last few years. His latest, "Solar Minimum," could be his most intimate and personal to date. Whereas early Fixx songs always grabbed the listener by the scruff and tried to whip him into shape, the songs on "Solar Minimum" seduce the brain with gentle piano chords, lilting strings, and conversational melodies that unfold at their own pace.

While such an approach results in an album less immediately accessible than, say, "Reach the Beach," the overall experience may be more gratifying as a whole. Tracks like "Other Side of the Story," "Sail," and "Better Luck Next Time" find Curnin in uber-reflective mode, a modern-day troubadour on an endless mystical search for the meaning of "Life" (with a capital "L").

Curnin has always been an emotive singer, but on "Solar Minimum" he ups the ante by serving up some of his most haunting vocals to date. On the aforementioned "Story" he starts things off by exploring his affecting lower register (and when I say low, I mean he's like subterranean, baby), before harmonizing with his own "Fixx-like" persona by song's end. Likewise, on the moody, minor-keyed "Simply Complicated," he's so overcome with emotion that words begin to fail him and he lapses into a mournful "LO, LO, LO, LO" chorus. You can almost picture the French Café and guys in berets nearby.

Other highlights include "It Finds You," with its decidedly funky, Fixx-ish vibe, "My Sweet Life," on which words of regret ultimately give way to reggae-tinged gospel, and "The Weight," a confessional piece of prose set to Curnin's tender piano figures.

Listening to me describe "Solar Minimum" you might think you're in for a whole bunch of hokey emotional bombast. Quite the contrary, Curnin's production is so restrained and the delivery so sincere that the overall effect is never anything short of pretty damn moving. And while this isn't a Fixx album proper, Fixx-o-philes will be pleased to know that a couple of Cy's bandmates pop in for a visit, with a certain surname-hyphenated guitarist lending a little electric muscle to tunes like "In the Palm of Our Hands."

In short, if you're looking for a CD with 12 carbon-copies of "One Thing," then pass this by and simply pick up a Rhino "Just Can't Get Enough" 80's comp instead. However, if you're looking for a richly rewarding and thoughtful work by an artist trying to lend aural comfort to his fellow "travelers," then you might want to check out Cy Curnin's latest. It's called "Solar Minimum," but Curnin definitely gave "the max" on this one.

*** ½ (three-and-a-half out of five stars)

Notable Tracks: "The Other Side of the Story," "My Sweet Life," "Simply Complicated," "Better Luck Next Time," "Sail"


Dan said...

Great review, i'll have to pick it up...

Dan (the only other fixx fan)

J said...

Most notably an all true review of (Solar Minimum). Cy's voice never goes out of style, at least not in my book! Keep up the good work Cy!!