Fire Engines

Codex Teenage Premonition

In 1980, the Fire Engines were one of Scotland's most thrilling bands, prone to playing 20-minute sets in which spasmodic guitars and hyperactive drums circled each other like wild, hungry beasts. Combined with Davy Henderson's hypercaffeinated, yelping vocals, the quartet sounded something like a U.K. version of James Chance & the Contortions. But the foursome imploded a mere 18 months after forming, leaving behind one LP and a couple of singles (all of which were compiled on 1992's Fond) and fading quickly into oblivion. Thanks to the patronage of Franz Ferdinand (the band, not the dead archduke), the Fire Engines' star has risen again -- at least to the point of seeing the release of this odds and sods collection, full of demos, BBC sessions, and live tracks. While the disc is certainly instructive, with the band's spastic funk-noise proving an obvious starting point for numerous current-day outfits, Codex's recordings are of such low quality and similar tone that the overall listening experience is exhausting. (On the other hand, studio takes of tracks like "Meat Whiplash" and "Candyskin" featured sweet funk underpinning and string sections, making repeated listenings more palatable.) Perhaps it's best to look at Codex as a (time) capsule, a jagged little pill of aggression and noise that's best digested in small doses.

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