Friday, July 30, 2010

Fine China's Three Strikes

Arizona is the last place you'd expect to find an band that worships 80's europop with the fervor that Michael Bay fans do explosions. Much less so than in 1997 when Fine China signed to Velvet Blue Music and released their "No One Knows" ep, a collection of songs that prompted a young me and friend David to take notice, become interested and expand our, then limited, musical landscape.

The following is a weak baseball analogy of their three albums:

Strike One: "When the World Sings" was their first of Fine China's three albums and continued the collaboration between the band and Ronnie Martin (of Joy Electric) that started with the bands second ep "Rialto Bridge". This album features some very strong songwriting and construction for a band that, at the time, was basically a novelty. The songs were, however, completely drowned out by Ronnie Martin's overdone, synth-heavy, production. Upon listening, it would appear that Martin ran wild and seemed to make Fine China his side project rather than producing the band and letting their instruments shine through. The only reason I'm able to still listen to the record is because I was able to see the band while turing for this album. They left the synth at home and recreated much of the annoying sounds on the record with real instruments; highlighting the songwriting and a surprisingly tight and original band.

Strike Two: "You Make Me Hate Music" was the band's second (and most awesomely named) album in which they left Ronnie Martin's production in favor of his brother Jason (of Starflyer 59). The new Martin left a subtle, yet unmistakeable, mark on this record. Where Ronnie used heavy synth and technoesque beats, Jason added a little more reverb and the songs on this record seem to be played at 20bpm slower than they should be. While it was a relief to have the band out from the synth grip, it was disappointing that the songwriting was so melancholy. The best way to describe the album is "a downer", because of both material and expectations. However, listening with fresh ears after years on the shelf (or hard drive) the album doesn't sound as much like the let down I remember it being, but the songs are also much more depressing than I realized in 2002. I'd be interested in hearing Jason Martin produce this band today as he has grown leaps in bounds as a producer over the past few years.

Strike Three (or: A Hit!) So we'll say the strike is on me for not having a physical copy of "The Jaws of Life" on hand. I can't tell you who produced it or much about the record because I didn't even know it existed until 8 months ago. Whatever the process was, everything seemed to fall into place. The songwriting is as solid as ever; the music ever euro. But it all works to the advantage of the record. Keep in mind that this album was the only one released in a time where anyone know about bands like Interpol. The europop revival wasn't "hip" for most of Fine China's existence. Perhaps it was the success of bands like Interpol that made 2005 a fertile year for Fine China to become the next big thing. But for whatever reason, they didn't and subsequently broke up.

(this is from "Jaws of Life" but for whatever reason the picture is of the cover from "You Make Me Hate Music")

It's always a shame when the world loses a great pop band that nobody has heard of.

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