In the annals of New Wave, the trio Fiat Lux would be lucky to warrant a footnote. Over a brief two years, their output consisted of one mini album, a handful of singles, and then a slip back into obscurity. Don’t think for a minute that their obscurity is a reflection on the quality of their music, though. For those in the know, they are a rare jewel of a band of highest quality, and a brand new collection, Hired History Plus, shows just how good they were, even with the relatively little material they had.
Formed in 1982 by vocalist Steven Wright and multi-instrumentalist David Crickmore, they were soon joined by saxophonist Ian Nelson, the brother of Bill Nelson. Brother Bill would help them out by releasing their debut single, the stark and primitive synth-driven numbers “Feels Like Winter Again” and “This Illness,” both of which highlight Wright’s deep and distinctive voice. Nelson would also initially produce their follow-up single, “Comfortable Life” c/w “Photography,” but upon signing to Polydor Records, they rerecorded both songs with new producer Hugh Jones—a wise decision, as Nelson’s versions aren’t nearly as compelling or vivid.
Their second single for the label, “Secrets,” is nothing less than a lost classic. It’s a hazy, dreamy number that’s melancholic yet beautiful; Wright’s vocals are absolutely intoxicating and lulling, recalling the poppier elements of 4AD Records (for whom Jones would also produce a number of acts, including the label’s first internationally successful act, Modern English) as well as bands such as Freur and Frazier Chorus. It isn’t surprising that the single was a minor hit; listening to it nearly four decades later, it’s more surprising that it didn’t do better. Nor was it surprising that the follow-up single, “Blue Emotions,” was also a minor hit; this track finds the band in a more straightforward dance groove, recalling Depeche Mode, and featuring a distinctive saxophone solo.
To capitalize on this promising development, Polydor put together a mini-album compiling the singles and their b-sides, Hired History. Though in terms of material it didn’t offer anything new, what it did do was to help define the young band’s sound. Putting the funkier “Blue Emotions” and “Comfortable Life” together with the mellower “Photography” and “Secrets” showcased a band with an impressive range. The funk of “Aqua Vitae” sent the band straight into A Certain Ratio territory, while “Sleepless Nightmare” found them flirting with goth and industrial; comparisons to both Alien Sex Fiend and early Ministry aren’t inaccurate.
With kudos and promising chart performance in hand, they began working on Ark Of Embers, which was to have been their debut proper. Unfortunately, the relationship with Polydor had soured—excellent singles “Solitary Lovers” and “House of Thorns” failed to make an impression, and the label shelved the album. To be fair, it’s easy to understand why; half of the album had already been released, and while album cuts “In The Heat Of The Night,” “Embers,” and “Breaking The Boundary” weren’t bad, they didn’t quite have the same spark as the older material. Thus, it’s hard to envision a label getting behind an album that largely featured songs released not once but twice, and whose newer singles seemingly sparked no interest. The relationship with the label over, Fiat Lux quietly went their separate ways, seemingly another promising band lost to obscurity and label indifference.
Yet this wasn’t the end of the story. Although Ian Nelson sadly died in 2006, Wright and Crickmore would get together in 2017 and rerecord “Secrets,” and earlier this year, they finally released a proper debut album, the excellent Saved Symmetry. The excellent Hired History Plus could have been a memorial to a superb, obscure New Wave band, but it wasn’t. Instead, it feels like a validation of all the kudos their singles have earned over the decades, and is a most welcomed collection of a band worthy of rediscovery.
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