Last night, I put on a favorite album from when I was 14, the Fixx's album Phantoms. I was one of those luckless bastards who heard then-vocalist Cy Curnin and drummer Adam Woods doing an interview with an MTV personality live on the radio, who tried to simultaneously call in with a question and win a copy of the cassette, but couldn't get through. And then twenty-odd years later, Paul Mendenhall and I interview Cy Curnin on the air. Strange world. Incidentally, Cy's a helluva guy - very courteous interview and still something of a hero, this far along...but I digress.
So, it's playing right now, and I'm amazed how well the album has held up. Many albums that are locked to their era don't date well; think of those fantastic Moog sounds and tinkling chimes on jazz fusion albums from the seventies. What has surprised me is that Phantoms hangs in there at least as well as any random B-52's recording, and has dated in fine style. I think maybe it's a function of the lyric concerns: it's the perfect Buddhist rock album.
I mean that last sentence literally. Take album opener "Lose Face" as an example - "we all breathe in the same air/yet we all die for the airspace" is a tricky lyric to pull off in a "simple rock song" because it's not the typical rock song material, no sex/drugs/rocknroll trio of weird sisters dictating the contents, but rather a succinct distillation of the oneness of things - we're all in the lifeboat together, so stop whizzing in the water bottle, in other words. Couple this with music that is about as ego-driven as a blank sheet of paper, and you've got the makings of the perfect philosophical rock song. (I should note here that the band shares its songwriting credits the same way U2 and R.E.M. do, which goes a long way to maintaining band harmony. Budding musicians take note.)
Now multiply that across an entire album, and you've got a collection of songs that could lend themselves to modern meditation, giving you the "Oh! of Pleasure" as musician Ray Lynch calls it. It fully sank in for me one early morning a half-dozen years ago when I was walking to work and suddenly EVERYTHING connected. Literally, I stopped where I was, simply standing in the sidewalk, breathing out steam, willing to be late for work to savor a glimmer of enlightenment.
Most musicians could not do this...the ego would get in the way, and someone would take a wailing solo and wreck all the space. But here, in these songs, is a still stone garden, gravel perfectly chaotic, larger stones marking islands in the mind.
And it rocks pretty well too. Just sayin'.