Fire Engines were the most manic of the new Scottish pop crop that surfaced around 1979: primal rock’n’roll drawing more on raw passion (via guitar din and repetitive noise) than melody or captivating structures. The quartet offered no traditional hooks, just six-string fire and aggressively unpleasant vocals.
The group’s two enigmatic albums have a lot of overlap: the American release with the German title adds two of the band’s catchier numbers: the punk-country-flavored “Candyskin” (with ridiculously incongruous strings) and “Everythings Roses.” It also replaces the tedious “Lubricate Your Living Room Pt. 2” with the more exciting “Meat Whiplash.” Using electric guitars without regard to typical pop traditions, the abrasive but ruggedly handsome Fire Engines — a Scottish blend of the Contortions and early Television — will poke and scratch their way into your heart if you let them.
As released in the US, the 24 years after Codex Teenage Premonition includes five outtakes from the first album, 10 live tracks, two Peel Session recordings and a cover of Franz Ferdinand’s “Jacqueline” recorded when Fire Engines reunited for a one-off Glasgow gig at the end of 2004.
Fire Engines guitarist David Henderson and keyboardist Russell Burn went on to form Win, a subversive sextet that brings an equally iconoclastic set of wonderful ideas to bear on soul-dance-jazz-pop. (Imagine a collaboration between Marc Bolan and Prince for a hint of the possibilities.) Despite a superficially slick and accessible exterior — complete with synthesizers, female backup singers and samples — Win’s records are as idiosyncratic and delightfully unsettling in their own way as the old group.