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Spins: Cy Curnin • “Lockdown”

| May 1, 2020 | 0 Comments

Cy Curnin

Lockdown

(Self)

Fixx frontman Cy Curnin has returned with Lockdown, his fifth solo LP, his latest since 2013’s The Horse’s Mouth. The town crier continues to roam the global village with a sweet voice that conveys bitter truths when it must. That voice may not always bring comfort, but it nonetheless assures us that we’re not alone. By naming the new album Lockdown, Curnin renders this collection of socio-political and environmental cautionary tales as a time capsule of today’s headlines.

“Dinosaurs” introduced Lockdown’s song cycle with deceptively gentle keyboard balladry and understated but tech-savvy pop. Curnin finds a parallel for humanity’s headlong flight toward oblivion in the fate of the dodo bird, or the limited lifespan of a dinosaur gazing in uncomprehending wonder at an approaching meteor. The singer’s lyrics have often championed resilience despite apparent fragility. The title track from 2005’s album Mayfly celebrated the ephemeral insect’s brief gift of life. During “In the Blink of an Eye,” Curnin identifies “the flower in the rainstorm, holding its head up high.” However, the song takes a darker turn by suggesting that what makes us stronger can also kill us with ruthless efficiency. Extinction can arrive in a cataclysmic flash – or at least appear like a binary event to those who have flouted the remonstrations of Mother Earth. “Should have taken the warning,” Curnin has often sung during Cold War protest anthem “Red Skies at Night.” “It‘s just people ignoring.”

The low spark of “Hell Hath No Fury” continues along the thread, describing the consequences of scorning the woman of the world. Grim tidings unfold while Curnin lowers his agile tenor into a rumbling baritone akin to Tom Waits.

Curnin’s affinity for Moroccan instrumentation informs the downtempo vibe of “The Land of the Blind,” recalling fan-favorite “Just Before Dawn” from the Fixx’s 2012 LP Beautiful Friction. “In the land of the blind, the one-eyed man is king,” sings Curnin. It’s a land of delusion where the population collectively forsakes their other senses as well, drowning the sound of reason in a sea of their own noise and the ranting of the king. The song begs the question of whether social media help us to navigate uncertainty together or whether it stokes collective paranoia. “It won’t get better ‘til we hit rock bottom,” Curnin sings during “Rock Bottom.” The song inverts the contemporary quest to flatten the curve–whether that line is measuring pandemic statistics or spiritual trauma. The song also reflects the sentiment behind the evergreen “Saved by Zero,” with a swirling synthesizer that is recognizably Fixx-y.

Despite its critical angle, “Rock Bottom” retains a glimmer of hope. Anyone reaching that shadowy nadir should take heart, realizing that there’s nowhere to go but upward and into the sunshine.

Lockdown tracks, including “Last Night on the Planet,” reveal Curnin’s hidden strengths as a singer-songwriter, albeit one with an affinity for the sonic drama of a band like Pink Floyd. “We were brought down by our appetites,” Curnin sings, echoing a common lamentation. In the song’s sci-fi setting, humanity leaves dashed dreams as they rocket toward the unknown. It’s anybody’s guess whether they’ll make good on a second chance among the stars.

During “Just Like the Rest of Us,” the one-percenters fall from their ivory towers due to unspoken calamity. The erstwhile elite is forced to scrabble in the dirt as newly minted refugees among those they once considered their inferiors and upon whose backs they built their hoarded fortunes. There’s little gloating among the lower castes, however–just a shared sadness. Curnin’s resolute piano and gravel-etched baritone are heightened by a thrilling solo from guitarist Rick DiFonzo, channeling David Gilmour’s cosmic blues.

There’s no mistaking Curnin’s voice, but Lockdown reverberates with personal identity and a more intimate tone than the Fixx’s sonic thrills. Still, “Overkill” is propelled by the heartbeat of a rocker and could have suited any Fixx setlist. From the Cold War sentiment of “Stand or Fall” to pre-climate crisis environmental warnings in “Driven Out,” Curnin has marked his career with the Fixx by speaking to the times and uncovering lasting truths.

Lockdown’s most telling statement may be found in “Genie’s Out of the Bottle.” With the gravity of latter-era David Bowie a la Heathen and Reality, the song describes a force of change that cannot be confined. The genie could represent climate crisis, pathogen, revolution, or depending upon your perspective, even an outbreak of love. Regardless, it’s on the loose.

The present will not be recaptured in the bottle of the past. The questing “Something is Calling Me” veers from the album’s existential dread toward determination and spirit, with an urgent need to shake the anxiety of the age and make the most of time “on this side of the grave.” Light bleeds through the cracks in the album’s dystopian fear, but this is no party album. Curnin is calling the demons of the day by name to cast them out. In the process, he offers to help you do the same with yours.

– 8 out of 10

-Jeff Elbel

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Category: Spins, Weekly

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