Feels Real Good
It’s been a long time since someone married high art, high fashion, pop culture, and pop music as well as the eclectic pop duo Fischerspooner have done. You’ve got the carefully-laid out CD booklet photo spread, the Karl Lagerfeld fashion shoots, the slick, eye-popping videos, the lavish live shows that seems to resemble a cross between Hedwig & the Angry Inch, Kiss, and an Andy Warhol happening, and it’s all well and good, but most importantly, what about the music? Are Fischerspooner legitimate artists, or just the 2003 version of Sigue Sigue Sputnik, nothing but a couple of hipster doofuses with a carefully-honed image who possess no actual musical talent whatsoever?
Chances are, you’ve seen Fischerspooner, or perhaps heard people talking about them before you’ve even had a chance to hear their music, and it’s admittedly hard to get their striking visual images out of your head once you do give their debut album, #1, a listen. However, if you do manage to just let the music speak for itself, you’d be surprised at how good it actually is. Over the past few years, the burgeoning genre of urban hipster, retro-style techno music commonly known as “no wave”, or “electroclash” has spawned a large amount of mediocre outfits (Mount Sims), a fair number of reasonably good acts (Miss Kittin, Ladytron, Chicks on Speed), and only a couple of truly original artists. Foul-mouthed electro-queen Peaches is one of them, and take my word for it, Fischerspooner is the other.
Formed in New York in 1999 by old friends Warren Fischer and Casey Spooner, Fischerspooner takes that minimalist, early ‘80s synth-pop sound that electroclash so heavily bases its sound on, and breathes new life into it. Never a part of any electronic music scene in the first place, they just blindly went into this project with Fischer’s minimal synthesizers (influenced by the likes of Kraftwerk, Human League and New Order, more specifically, “Blue Monday”), Spooner’s often twisted lyrics, and the duo’s own warped vision of what good modern pop music should be like, and they’ve managed to accomplish something that only Peaches has done in that whole electroclash genre before: create minimalist electronic music that transcends the constraints of the genre, sounding fresh, energetic, and most importantly, human.
While Spooner serves as both the lyricist and the flashy, chameleonic frontman (including one look that resembles a goth Robert Plant gone Bollywood), it’s Fischer’s musical compositions and synth arrangements that make the album itself so interesting. The album’s first four tracks get things off to a superb start. “Emerge”, the band’s signature song, and most famous single, is the best of the lot, employing a synth line that bears a strong similarity to “Blue Monday”, but takes the song in another direction, as Spooner spouts the album’s own mantra of “Sounds good / Looks good / Feels good too”, and the song bursts into frenetic beats and an incredibly catchy chorus, sung by backing vocalist Lizzy Voder. On the other hand, Fischerspooner’s outstanding cover of Wire’s 1979 song “The 15th” sounds beautifully soulful, with sensitive vocals by Spooner, and a surprisingly lush arrangement by Fischer that makes you wonder why nobody tried a synth-pop cover of this song sooner. “Sweetness” brings a sinister, almost punk-like energy to the fore, while “L.A. Song” has an unsettling, spacey quality to it.
The rest of #1, while not possessing quite the same catchiness as the first 20 minutes, never gets dull, either, ranging from ambient (“Tone Poem”, whose lyrics were apparently swiped from some scribblings in an old physics textbook), to robotic (“Invisible”), to pure ‘80s pop (“Turn On”), to some flat-out contagious dance beats (the Gary Numan-ish “Natural Disaster”). The album is bolstered by the inclusion of Junkie XL’s rousing, nine minute remix of “Emerge”, but the other bonus track, the scatologically-obsessed “Megacolon”, has Spooner marking a new nadir in sophomoric lyric-writing, with some of the sickest verses since The Mentors’ infamous ‘80s tune, “Anal Vapors”.
Despite the strength of this album, Fischerspooner is best enjoyed as a multimedia act, and to Capitol Records’ credit, they have included the first printing of the CD with one hell of a bonus DVD. These days, most bonus DVDs include a video or two, and little else, and are often watched once, and soon forgotten after that, but this treat for Fischerspooner fans is really something special. It has a highly entertaining, 23-minute documentary, four music videos (including the brilliant 2003 version of “Emerge”), a selection of seven artfully trippy concert projections that they use in their live shows (complete with accompaniment by the tracks they’re for), a DVD-ROM “digital music feature”, a total of 13 audio remixes, a chronicle of all their live shows up to the end of 2002, many photos, album and poster artwork, and even the entire album on audio. In addition to all that, it also has Dolby 5.1 Surround capability. Personally, I have never, ever seen a bonus DVD like this, and both Fischerspooner and Capitol have to be commended.
Even though it was originally released in Europe in 2001, and last summer in the UK, #1 still sounds fresh, with that same lightning-in-a-bottle feeling that Prodigy’s The Fat of the Land had nearly six years ago. It’s shallow, pretentious, flamboyant, catchy, and just plain freaky at times, but unlike all the empty pop music you hear on mainstream radio today, this is one pop album that gets it right for once, and what a pure blast it is. Electroclash music has yet to prove it has any real staying power, any real cultural relevance, but in the next couple years, #1 just might be the record that outlasts all the others.
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