Thursday, July 7, 2011

Fischer-Z - Red Skies Over Paradise

Red Skies Over Paradise (1981) ***1/2

The early '80s were a paranoid time.  I remember as a kid one of the big events was a mini-series entitled The Day After that detailed the struggles of survivors of a nuclear holocaust, and as well watching a couple of other imported series from the U.K. on PBS (back in the days before cable, it was useful mostly as the place to catch BBC programming that obviously wasn't going to be broadcast on the three major networks).  Reagan and Thatcher had come into power, and the U.S.S.R. was being run by a cadre of ossiffied, out-of-touch Soviet mummies leftover from the Stalinist era.  The civilized world was convinced that at any moment the Cold War rhetoric would heat up and the aging hardliners in the Pentagon and the Kremlin would blast our fragile edifice of civilization to smithereens.  Protests for nuclear disarmament were the cause celebre of the day, with rock festivals against nuclear power and mass sit-ins flickering in the blue light of TV screens from Western Europe and North America.  History lesson for you Gen Y'ers reading out there - humanity has always been fearful that humans are going to fuck it up and destroy the planet.  The exact modus operandi has changed - nowadays it's global warming; then, nuclear obliteration.  Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

History class dismissed; now let's get on to this, the third Fischer-Z album, and the final one by the original lineup (they reformed in the late '80s and have released several albums since then, but I'm pretty firmly sure I am zero percent uninterested).  I knew if I stuck around with these guys long enough they'd produce a good album, and lo and behold, they've produced a friggin' masterpiece.  Well....only half a masterpiece, mostly contained on the first half.  Damn that insufferable inconsistency - why should I put up with teeth-grating, dated quasi-sexist quasi-Puritan crap like "Bathroom Scenario," bemoaning the horrors of a modern world in which condoms and tampons can be freely bought without shame in the supermarkets?  "The Writer," and "You'll Never Find Brian Here," (another early '80s cause celebre, the plight of runaway children, at least in pop songs [see XTC's "Runaways," Bon Jovi's "Runaway," Pat Benatar's hilariously campy video of "Love is a Battlefield"] - a little baffling as to why that specific cause became so hip at that particular moment in pop time, but nevermind)....ahem, those two songs deviate from the concept lyrically as well, and both sortasuck.  Anywho, the album gets off on a great start, with the first three songs holding up as the finest three-way stretch of Fischermusic recorded so far (and probably since).  "Berlin," may be a shameless "London Calling," ripoff, but who cares, it stomps and clomps and thuds and plods along as effectively as the Clash's one-chord apocalyptic anthem.  "Marliese," surges power-poppingly (about a German fanstalker, from the looks of the lyrics), before we segue back in the concept with the title track, with its magnificently militaristic "down the bunkers," chorus.  From thence on out the album grows more inconsistent - good songs, bad songs, the pretty fragile melodious "Luton to Lisbon," much too short and fragmentary at under two minutes, segueing into the annoying, "Multinationals Bite," is typical.  "Battalions of Strangers," is another particular highlight, its morbid but anthemic quality (and heavy, bombastic synths) analogizing as a Magazine-influenced track from Who's Next

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