If this mild-mannered Arizona combo is known for anything at all, it’s as lab rats for the production techniques of the Martin brothers: Ronnie of Joy Electric and Jason of Starflyer 59. With the band’s willing participation, the Martins shaped Fine China’s sound in their own images. As enjoyable as the band’s music sometimes was, it’s likely there were more Starflyer 59 or Joy Electric fans buying Fine China albums than there were ever genuine Fine China fans.
Ronnie’s production of two EPs and the debut longplayer shifts the emphasis from whatever Fine China was (seemingly Ocean Blue-inspired post-punk jangle) to a synth-centric sound in the direction of Joy Electric, though nowhere near as electronic or eccentric. The combination of guitars, crystalline synthesizers and Rob Withem’s fey vocals on When the World Sings recalls New Musik, especially in the best song, “Labor Saving Device,” which would’ve sounded right at home sandwiched between “Straight Lines” and “This World of Water.” The rest of the album is more of the same: bright but slightly melancholy new wave pop. Nothing spectacular, but an easy heartwarmer for anyone nostalgic for Tony Mansfield’s production sound of the early ’80s.
Fine China switched Martins for production on You Make Me Hate Music, and to no one’s surprise Jason steered the impressionable bunch back to the more guitar-centered rock of their earlier EPs. Drawing on a variety of ’80s bands for inspiration, Fine China delivers a blend of the Smiths, R.E.M., Psychedelic Furs and Cure. In other words, they made a Starflyer 59 album. Which is in no way a bad thing, especially since it’s a pretty good SF59 album, with nearly every song a shiny little guitar pop gem.
No Martins were involved in the making of The Jaws of Life, and so the band fell back on lessons learned from both, ending up with a Brothers Martin album a couple of years before the Martins themselves did. Fine China’s best album combines Joy Electric-style synthesizers and Withem’s Ronnie-esque vocals with SF59 inspired guitars.
Following the dissolution of Fine China, Withem formed the Foxglove Hunt, with Ronnie Martin on percussion.