Wednesday, February 26, 2020

SPAZ reviews FINGERPRINTZ!

FINGERPRINTZ
TOUGH LUCK: THE BEST OF...
(Renaissance Records)

The Scottish music scene in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s was, for lack of a better term, amazing. While the ‘80s gave us glistening, glorious Pop from the likes of The Bluebells, Friends Again, Aztec Camera, Orange Juice, and loads of others, the roots of the Scottish Punk, Post-Punk, and New Wave scene started way back in 1977 or so. You know, when British bands like Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Jam, and all the other greats created a musical revolution. Punk Rock re-wrote the rule book, leading to  dozens of new genres being created in a short period of time. One of the most endearing and enduring genres to rival Punk was something called Post-Punk. Relying less on melody and more on experimentation and mood, Post-Punk artists like Gang Of Four and PiL could still be abrasive without resorting to the Punk Rock stereotypes. And then there were bands influenced by Post-Punk that transcended the genre, bringing something new and exciting to the mix yet never achieving the acclaim they so richly deserved. Scotland’s Fingerprintz is one of those bands…


Scottish singer/songwriter/guitarist Jimme O’Neill formed Fingerprintz alongside guitarist Cha Burnz, drummer Bob Schilling (easier to pronounce than his real name, Bogdan Wiczling), bassist Kenny Alton, and vocalist Step Lang. Fingerprintz’s sound was angular, quirky, a tad bit dark, and remarkably melodic and fun. Signing with Virgin Records, the quintet released two EPs before Step Lang left and Jimme slid into the lead vocal position. At this point, the band really found their voice.


Their 1979 debut album, THE VERY DAB, was daring and different. Not exactly an album filled with Pop songs (it wasn’t supposed to be), O’Neill was still capable of writing some great tunes including “Tough Luck,” “Close Circuit Connection,” and “Hey, Mr. Smith”. Elsewhere, the band offered up great songs that leaned towards the angular and experimental. The distinct guitar sounds – reflected in the cool little riffs that floated in and out of the songs – fluctuated between menacing and melodic.  Infused with the energy of Punk and a unique musical vision, THE VERY DAB was an impressive debut and sounded like nobody else at the time.


The following year, the band released their sophomore album DISTINGUISHING MARKS. Produced by The Motors’ Nick Garvey, this platter was a completely different ball of wax. Perhaps one of the finest Pop albums of the era, DISTINGUISHING MARKS was jam packed with hooks. While the dark, experimental bits were stripped away, the band still sounded very much like the Fingerprintz that made THE VERY DAB, only better. Garvey’s big, bold production added power to the band’s sound and brought out their best side (just listen to The Motors, Bram Tchaikovsky, and The A’s second album for proof that Garvey had ‘the Midas Pop Touch’!) The single “Bulletproof Heart” brought the band much-needed attention but was far from the best song on the album. I mean, this album was loaded with classics including “Amnesia,” “Yes Eyes,” “Criminal Mind”, “Houdini Love,” and many more. While New Wave and Power Pop fans ate up every moment of DISTINGUISHING MARKS, success still eluded the band.


Now, here is where things get confusing. In 1981, the band released their third album, BEAT NOIR, in Europe. Sonically, the album sounded very much like the true spiritual follow-up to their 1979 debut album. The arrangements were once again sparse, the mood was darker and more experimental, yet the songs were more melodic and charming than most of the material on THE VERY DAB. It was as if the band succumbed to the label’s pressure to make a Pop album and when that Pop album failed, they went right back to doing what they did before. Kind of a musical ‘fuck you, we’re doing it our way now’ statement. Whatever the reason, the original 11 track BEAT NOIR is a phenomenal Post-Punk album that is filled with shade and shadows. Once the album was recorded, Fingerprintz began to dibble-dabble in Funk and Dance music. Once they had a few new Dance-oriented songs in the can, the tracklisting of BEAT NOIR was rearranged, removing a few tracks in order to add songs like “The Beat Escape” and “Get Civilized” to the running order. Rereleasing the album in many different territories, the new tracks were great but the album felt a bit schizophrenic. In the U.S., they removed a few more songs from the original tracklist, making it a shorter, more danceable album... which only confused the matter even more. Most U.S. fans have only ever heard the American version of the album which was nothing like the original album. It’s not surprising that Fingerprintz called it quits after that…

Jimme and Cha formed The Silencers in the ‘80s and achieved much more success than Fingerprintz ever did. Bogdan Wiczling went on to play drums for Adam Ant on the FRIEND OR FOE  tour as well as his VIVA LE ROCK period. Surprisingly, over the years, not one single track by Fingerprintz has ever been officially released on CD – not even on an ‘80s compilation! Well, not until now, that is…


TOUGH LUCK: THE BEST OF FINGERPRINTZ (Renaissance Records) offers up just a sampling of the band’s fantastic back catalog. While some monumental tracks are missing, it is best to focus on the gems that are here: “Bulletproof Heart,” “The Beat Escape,” “Houdini Love,” “Tough Luck,” “Remorse Code,” and “Shadowed” plus the two A-side sung by original vocalist Step Lang: “Who’s Your Friend” and “Dancing With Myself” (NOT the Gen X/Billy Idol song). In a way, this comp focuses on the band’s Post-Punk side and less on their poppier moments. But what’s wrong with that? Fingerprintz was a force to be reckoned with - it is just a shame that they never had a chance to do their reckoning! While the tracks are mastered from the original vinyl (and to be honest, varies in quality), the glory of the music still shines through. If you’ve never heard the band, then it is time to change that. If you are already a fan, why don’t you already own this?

Your pal,
Stephen SPAZ Schnee