It’s difficult to categorize Fingerprintz, which may explain why the group never garnered a large following. The primitively recorded first album occupies a dark, throbbing zone of bobbing pop and wry-to-bizarre lyrics (“Punchy Judy,” “Beam Me Up Scotty”). Leader/guitarist Jimme O’Neill’s Scottish accent and offbeat songwriting combine to chilling effect on the crime-obsessed narratives “Fingerprince” and “Wet Job”; the former’s music also suggests a valid response to reggae/dub influence.
The considerably slicker Distinguishing Marks, in contrast, is pure pop in extremis — musically, anyway. The songs hum like a finely tuned motor, with producer Nick Garvey removing any rough sonic edges. Only the relentlessly perverse lyrics betray a refusal to play by the book; O’Neill’s disjointed visions are inspired by pulp fiction, police blotters and hospital charts. A catchy collection that all sounds like hit single material.
Beat Noir took yet another 180-degree turn, away from pop and towards a rock/funk fusion. Finally in synch with the times, Fingerprintz delivered a stunning, idiosyncratic package of heavy bass lines, winsome melodies and O’Neill’s thematic fetishes (paranoia, frustration). The album was kinky enough to catch on in rock clubs, but too peculiar to reach a broader audience. (The US version deletes two songs.) Drenched in atmosphere, it remains a compelling work.
O’Neill subsequently co-wrote, co-produced and played on an excellent album by singer Jacqui Brookes before launching the Silencers. Drummer Bogdan Wiczling (no longer dubbed Bob Shilling, as he was on The Very Dab) worked on that record as well, and later toured and recorded with Adam Ant.
When O’Neill reunited with Fingerprintz guitarist Cha Burns to form the Silencers, he was able to go further — commercially — than his old group ever did. Not that he’s purveying pop pastry: A Letter From St. Paul addresses neuroses both personal and political, set to churning guitar-based rhythms. The music is hypnotic, the lyrics compelling. “We decided we wanted to write only about serious subjects without sounding anxious,” O’Neill said. Without sounding derivative of U2, the Silencers appeal to the same psychological demographic — only minus the na‹veté.
The single “Painted Moon” did much to boost the Silencers’ debut album. Unfortunately, history didn’t repeat with the succeeding A Blues for Buddha. When an album’s most commercial track — pushed briefly as a single — is called “Razor Blades of Love,” you’re not exactly thinking multi-platinum. Despite the band’s sparkling sound, O’Neill’s voice and lyrics convey an unrelieved sense of doom. Apocalyptic imagery abounds, and the album winds down until left with an acoustic guitar and a drum. The music is less carefully composed than before — second-album syndrome? But the pervasive gloom is what makes A Blues for Buddha so enervating.