In the early 1980s, the Fixx became a fixture on the American pop charts. One of many British New Wave bands that conquered the airwaves in the United States at the time, the Fixx stood out for their echoing vocals, political lyrics, and richly textured production. From 1982 through 1984, they released a string of hit albums and singles, but never endeared themselves to rock critics. Their commercial popularity waned, though, as the decade progressed. Changing labels and producers didn’t help, and by the early 1990s, it seemed that the band might be finished. But being close friends, the band members kept in touch and resumed performing. In 1998 they released Elemental, their first album after a seven-year break from recording. Appealing to their hardcore fans and surprising some reviewers with its quality, the album showed the Fixx to be a band determined to persevere even if they weren’t the chart-toppers they had once been.
The group came together in London during the late 1970s. Lead singer Cy Curnin had come to the city to attend drama school, after having briefly earned his living by winning prize money in fishing tournaments. At school he met drummer Adam Woods, and they became friends while working together on plays. Woods was in a band at the time, and Curnin eagerly joined. In 1979 the two decided to start a band of their own. In order to fill out their lineup, they advertised for members, recruiting guitarist Jamie West-Oram, keyboardist Rupert Greenall, and bass player Charlie Barret through the classifieds. After going through a couple of other names, their manager dubbed them the Portraits.
They found some early success under that name, releasing the single “Hazards in the Home.” By the time they released their next single, “Lost Planes,” though, they had become the Fixx. They promoted themselves to veteran producer Rupert Hine by sending him a tape that his girlfriend liked. On her advice, he agreed to work with the group. Shortly thereafter MCA Records signed them, and the group went into the studio to record their first album, Shuttered Room, released in 1982. Their social and political views permeated the songs, including the singles “Stand or Fall” and “Red Skies,” a song about the devastation of nuclear war. Both singles became hits in the United Kingdom, but not in the United States. The album did stay on the American charts for a year, though, even without any hit singles.
The Fixx generated interest in America with their tour to promote Shuttered Room. By then, Barret had left the band and Alfie Agius had replaced him. Wanting to capitalize on the buzz they were creating, the group headed back into the studio with their new bass player to work on their next effort, Reach the Beach, released in 1983. During the recording, Agius’ personality began to wear on the other band members. In an interview with Lisa M. Bell posted on the Fixx’s website, Curnin
For the Record…
Members include Alfie Agius (joined group, 1982; left group, 1983), bass; Charlie Barret (left group, c. 1982), bass; Dan K. Brown (joined group, 1983; left group, 1991), bass; Cy Cumin (born on December 13, 1957, in England), vocals, keyboards; Rupert Greenall, keyboards; Chris Tait (joined group, 1991), bass; Jamie West-Oram, guitar; Adam Woods (born on April 8, 1953, in England), drums.
Group formed in London, England as the Portraits, 1979; became the Fixx; 1981; released debut album, Shuttered Room, 1982; released platinum-selling album Reach the Beach, 1983; began recording hiatus after releasing Ink, 1991; released first studio album in seven years, Elemental, 1998.
Addresses: Management —Ron Rainey Management Inc., 315 South Beverly Drive, Suite 407, Beverly Hills, CA 90212. Website — The Fixx Official Website: http://www.thefixx.com.
described Agius as “Napoleon meets Satan … in one body.” Thus, Agius didn’t last for the whole session. The group found his replacement, Dan K. Brown, through the recommendation of mutual friends, and he joined to record the final track for the album.
Reach the Beach took the band to new heights of popularity. In their native country, though, the album produced no hit singles, and the Fixx would never again have a hit at home. But the United States was another story. The album spawned three hit singles, including “One Thing Leads to Another,” which peaked at number four. The album itself went platinum. Rock critics did not necessarily share the audience’s enthusiasm. In Rolling Stone, Errol Somay described the album as “generic New Wave Muzak more suitable for airports and dentists’ waiting rooms than dance clubs.” But the public disagreed. Boosted by their touring and the frequent appearance of their videos on MTV, which at the time was still a new phenomenon, the Fixx seemed to have conquered America.
The band wasted no time starting work on their next album. Phantoms, released in 1984, was successful, but it never approached the heights of their previous effort. With only one hit single, “Are We Ourselves?” the album didn’t have the same staying power as their previous albums. Phantoms also marked a shift in the focus of the band’s lyrics. A reviewer in People noted that “Cumin appears less involved with political issues than in the past and more into personal concerns such as alienation and the inability to communicate.”
After three albums in three years, the Fixx took a break from recording. The busy recording and touring schedule had taken its toll. As Curnin told the Toronto Star’s Greg Quill, “There was nothing left to say to one another after three solid years of work. Our vocation was not charming anymore.” After spending a year apart, the band regrouped to produce the 1986 album Walkabout. The formula that had worked for them so well a few years earlier started to wear thin. Although the single “Secret Separation” reached the charts, it was by no means a smash. According to Woods, this began to lead to problems with the group’s label, MCA. Under new management, the label was looking for the hit-making band of Reach the Beach. Woods told Mike Stephens of Gannett News Service, “They put everything into that one single. When it didn’t do as well as they thought it should have—even though it went top twenty—they gave up. That, for us, is when the problems began.”
Indeed, the group seemed to be searching for direction for the next few years. Walkabout turned out to be their last recording with Rupert Hines as producer. Hines often received a large amount of credit for the band’s lush, textured, synthesizer sound and echoing vocals. The album also marked their last work for MCA. They took their first step into uncharted waters by signing with RCA, the label that released Calm Animals in 1988. Besides a new label, the Fixx also unveiled a new sound, featuring West-Oram’s guitar much more prominently than on previous efforts. While the album turned out to be their most successful one in England, in the United States, where just four years earlier they had been fixtures in the top 40, sales continued to decline.
When the Fixx went into the studio again, they continued to explore a more raw, guitar-driven sound instead of returning to the lush textures of their biggest hits. According to Woods, their label was wary about this direction, as the first album for RCA hadn’t been commercially successful. He told Barbara Jaeger of the Bergen Record, “[W]hen they saw how much was lost on that record and then heard how we were continuing on the same path … they made it known that they would have preferred we go back to form.”
So the Fixx found themselves without a label, and it took them 18 months to find a new one. They finally ended up back with MCA, indirectly, on that company’s imprint label Impact. The resulting album, Ink, while keeping the focus more on guitars and less on keyboards, marked another departure for the band. In the past, they had written all their songs themselves. This time, Curnin collaborated with songwriter Scott Cutler for many of the tracks. The collaboration had not necessarily been meant to end up as Fixx music, but Curnin said the combined effort worked well, telling Kira L. Billik of the Associated Press, “[W]e deliver things in a Fixx way, so we can take songs from other places and make them our own.”
It turned out that Ink would be the Fixx’s last foray into the studio for several years. No longer able to top the charts, the Fixx found that major labels didn’t want them. The group went into a forced hiatus. While Curnin occupied himself by starting his own clothing company, Cy Wear, which specialized in designing and making hats, the music was never far from the group’s mind. They also kept themselves busy writing songs, even though they had no place to record them. Believing that they still had an audience, the band began to perform live again in 1996 after an extended absence from the public eye. Even though they didn’t have a new album to support on tour, they had plenty of new songs to play along with their greatest hits.
While the venues were smaller than when they had been the darlings of MTV and the charts, the Fixx hoped to find that their loyal fans were still out there. Curnin explained to Bill Locey of the Los Angeles Times what the group hoped to get from their first tour after the layoff: “We want to show people that we’re not on life support. We’ve got a good catalog and we’re one of the best live bands out there.” In fact, the group obliged their fans by taking requests from the crowd instead of strictly sticking to a playlist.
Heartened by the response to their tours, the band began recording and releasing new material. They decided to showcase their new songs first through a self-released five-song EP titled Happy Landings in 1997, instead of waiting for a contract from a label. Shortly thereafter they signed to CMC records and released their first full studio album in seven years, 1998’s Elemental. Four of the five members from the band’s best-known lineup returned for this effort, with Chris Tait replacing Brown on bass. Even though their time in the limelight seemed long gone, the album demonstrated the Fixx’s tenacity. In a review for All Music Guide, Stephen Thomas Erlewine wrote, “[T]here are moments showing that the Fixx is actually able to mature gracefully, which many naysay-ers would have hardly believed at the peak of their popularity.”
The Fixx followed up this effort with 1011 Woodland in 1999. This two-CD set included no new material, but rather featured re-recordings of some of their earlier work. Besides giving these old songs a sound more in keeping with the group’s later stripped-down approach, Curnin made no secret of his hope that redoing their familiar material would help the band’s cash flow. He told Blair R. Fischer of Rolling Stone, “It’s a great gig if you can get it… We’re gonna hang on tooth and nail.”
Shuttered Room, MCA, 1982.
Reach the Beach, MCA, 1983.
Phantoms, MCA, 1984.
Walkabout, MCA, 1986.
React, MCA, 1987.
Calm Animals, RCA, 1988.
One Thing Leads to Another: Greatest Hits, MCA, 1989.
Ink, Impact, 1991.
Happy Landings (EP), self-released, 1997.
Elemental, CMC, 1998.
1011 Woodland, CMC, 1999.
Ultimate Collection, MCA, 1999.
Associated Press, May 17, 1991.
Bergen Record, May 8, 1991, p. D1.
Dayton Daily News, May 15, 1998, p. 18.
Gannett News Service, May 19, 1989.
Los Angeles Times, May 23, 1991, p. J6; November 14, 1996, p. F18.
People, October 8, 1984, p. 28.
Rolling Stone, September 29, 1983, p. 72; November 22, 1984, p. 62.
Toronto Star, June 27, 1986, p. D11.
“The Fixx,” All Music Guide, http://www.allmusic.com (April 16, 2001).
“The Fixx,” Excite.com, http://music.excite.com (April 16, 2001).
“The Fixx,” Rolling Stone, http://rollingstone.com (April 16, 2001).
The Fixx Official Website, http://www.thefixx.com (April 16, 2001).
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