Archive for August, 2013

Citizen Fish: Free Souls in a Trapped Environment

When I started my blog I wanted to write about albums that never got a mention in the music press. I wanted to illuminate the dark corners and maybe get people to listen to one or two of the albums I reviewed. This month I was thinking about an important anniversary in my life: it has been ten years since I started university (four since I finished) and I was originally going to make that the focus of this months blog. Why? Well, going to university changed the direction of my life and it sharpened the knowledge I already had within myself. Thinking about it all, as I preambled around the back roads of Kildare, my thoughts kept on being pulled in one direction,much like a compass pointing to magnetic north, to another type of education: the school of Citizen Fish! In particular I kept on thinking of their 1990 album ‘Free Souls in a Trapped Environment’. Citizen Fish were born out of the Subhumans and Culture Shock and the members were Dick on vocals, Jasper on Bass, Trotsky on Drums and Larry on guitar. There were no surnames in the liner notes but my friend Carl, who stumbled across the tape in what used to be Comet record stores in Temple Bar in Dublin, deduced that the vocalist Dick had to be the same one from the Subhumans and thus purchased said album. This proved to be a very wise decision as it changed the way both of us looked at playing music.


At this point I would like to digress ever so slightly. You see when I think of this album I concomitantly think of the role of the record store. When we got this album (sometime around 1991 ) there was no Internet as we know it today. The modes of distribution were different. Record stores had character, certain ones stocked certain types of records and if you wanted to get anything outside the mainstream you generally had to go to Dublin. If you so wished, and we did, Comet would mail you their catalogue every so often so you could check what they had in stock. At the time there were also fanzines and these were the only places you got to hear about bands like Crass, Citizen Fish, Black Flag etc etc. Purchasing music was a pleasure and there were connoisseurs, ah there was just a real joy about finding something different, something that felt like it belonged to you. That was the feeling we got when Carl found ‘Free Souls’ and the feeling we had when we made the connection that both Citizen Fish and the Subhumans (a band we both loved) were from the same gene pool. God I miss those days.

Comet Records

Right, I hear you cry, we get the picture please tell us about the album. Where do I begin? At the start. The whole thing kicks of with ‘Supermarket Song’ a disjointed skanky tune all bass and staccato guitar chords. Dick is in great form singing about the ways in which consumerism is eating into our souls. So far, so punk but the music isn’t typical punk there is a reggae/ ska groove with real solid melodic bass work from Jasper. Next up: ‘Break into a Run/Rainbows’.There is a dub feel here: echoey snares and reverb which gives the song space. Then the lyrics. Dick is mediating on the need to break out, to break out of what? Everything. He reminds the listener that to be different is difficult and urges us to take the path of most resistant and that for rainbows you need rain. It was this song, above all, that really got me into the album. It was like Dick had taken all he believed in and looked in the mirror and said : ‘There is no turning back’. ‘Possession’ follows, a short song that says a lot about our greed. I love Larry’s guitar in it as it is all frenetic runs and stabs that drives the song relentlessly forward. After all that there is the albums masterpiece ‘Small Scale Wars’ Dick takes us to task about violence as a solution to lives problems as he says: ‘Falling in love won’t stop the war but hating other people might start some more’. The anarchist of old has matured and realises that as people, we are all open to corruption. ‘Home Economics’ ponders how we look after our elderly all backed by delayed guitar and Trotsky’s sharp snare cracks. ‘Paint ‘ is an uptempo, shouty affair that ensures the album doesn’t dip at the crucial moment and side one ends on a high with ‘Talk is Cheap’ keeping the energy levels ramped up.

Side two opens in a similar vain: ‘Face Off’ and ‘Youth’ pondering the role of experience and energy. Bass and guitar really anchor it all down with some serious musicianship on display and you get the feeling the whole band are mining some serious soul shaking moments. Dick turns to thoughts of cannibalism as he extols the virtues of veganism. As a committed carnivore it got me thinking and even though I never became a vegetarian Dick presents a strong argument. ‘Get off the Phone’ nearly has a Latin American ska vibe and is all paranoia about the government snooping on us ( as if)! ‘Experiment Earth’ envisions Earth as a giant alien experiment and Jasper does a number of runs on the bass that zip around UFO like which creates the prerequisite feeling. ‘How to write ultimate protest songs’ is a DIY manual on writing songs and is just pure Dick Lucas from start to finish. The album ends with ‘Charity’ it has one of the catchiest bass lines ever, an evil guitar motif, it has Dick aping Kate Bush’s ‘Wuthering Heights’ and is about charity fatigue by way of EMI and their role in the arms trade, I mean what more do you want? Overall, this album was highly influential for me in a number of ways: it made me want to dance, it made me want to write smart lyrics and it shaped the way I played bass. This album was my early university as it got me thinking, not in black and white but in all the wonderful colours that there are. In an era of grunge, which had started out as a cathartic primal scream but became increasingly insular and depressed this album made me think positively and proactively. It reminded me not to be limited to thinking of the past but to push on forward and try to create a better future and that the only way to do so was to be aware of the present and to affect change by being part of the world and not staying on the sidelines remaining silent.