This release sees all the recorded tracks by 1980s post-punk Scots The Fire Engines compiled on one album for the first time. The band were only together for 18 months, but have cast a long and influential shadow ever since. Indeed, a significant part of the interest in listening to this is in trying to work out which bands have subsequently been influenced by them. I certainly heard a lot of Orange Juice (both instrumentally and in the vocal, which has definitely shaped Edwyn Collins’ delivery), and thus also Franz Ferdinand. Less expectedly I could hear a little bit of Depeche Mode (who quite possibly ‘borrowed’ quite heavily from “Meat Whiplash” for their early single “Just Can’t Get Enough”). It would also seem that a whole host of recent ‘punk funk’ acts (The Rapture, !!!, Radio Four), who have taken the Fire Engines’ template of funk-heavy bass and cowbells, as witnessed here on many of the tracks, including “Meat Whiplash”, “Get Up and Use Me”, “Big Gold Dream” and “Discord”.
The band manage to combine this danceable funky feel with distinctive guitar sounds, which are quite hard to describe on paper. Tracks like the classic “Candyskins” (which is probably the best place to start for an introduction to the band and is, appropriately, the first track) and “Sympathetic Anaesthetic” sound, at first listen, to be full of classically indie ‘jangle’. Yet they also, at the same time, veer between spikey-ness and, at some points, a sound that is closer to a sitar than anything else.
A good few of the tracks here are instrumentals, and those that do have lyrics are nearly all frustratingly oblique: I’ve listened to this album many many times now and would still struggle to be able to say what any track is specifically about. This is a shame, but it could be argued that this all adds to their mystique and uncompromising image.
The album ends with different versions of four tracks already included (“Get Up and Use Me”, “Sympathetic Anaesthetic”, “New Things in Cartons”, and “Plastic Gift”) which don’t really add anything to the originals. Sounding in each case pretty similar to the previous versions (although the alternate “Get Up and Use Me” doesn’t have the endearing false start of the original), and tend to just make this album seem overlong.
The main difficulty with this release is that the band are almost too distinctive: in a strange way they sound so much like themselves that each track ends up sounding too similar to the one before. This means it can pall a bit, and much of what can be found here was not to this reviewer’s taste. However, as a primer for an influential and original band then this will undoubtedly be of interest to many a fan of British independent music.