Fischerspooner's 'Sir' Feels Like a Defiant Middle Finger at American Conservatism
Fischerspooner's Sir looks to ruffle right-wing feathers, and it arrives at a moment when the United States is confronting the realities of a profound ideological division.
16 Feb 2018
Nine years after their last record Entertainment, multi-instrumentalist Warren Fischer and singer-songwriter Casey Spooner have resurfaced with their most intimate collection yet, an unflinchingly raw portrait of pleasure and pain. Following the dissolution of a 14-year relationship, Casey Spooner was recently quoted in BlackBook magazine as having stepped into his "summer of not Eat, Pray, Love, but live, tan, fuck". These nights of debauchery fed the inspiration behind the songs within Fischerspooner's latest album, Sir, a salacious snapshot of boozy regret, anonymous trysts, and dark club corners. Beyond all the lyrical hedonism, the record feels like a defiant, middle finger at American conservatism and a nation that continues to cling to some puritanical idealism of yore.
At the turn of the 21st century, these delectably wonky, art-pop darlings ruled NYC's electroclash scene with their Kabuki meets Kraftwerk theatrics and breakthrough single "Emerge". The scene dissolved, the duo was forced to explore other sonic avenues, and three album's later, Spooner delivered his aptly titled solo outing, Adult Contemporary. While the blaring guitars were a change of pace and the lyrics were decidedly more introspective than ever before, that rebellious spirit, the je ne sais quoi that made him such a striking frontman, seemed to have been diluted.
Flash forward to the present. Sir was produced, co-written, and shaped under the guidance of ex-lover Michael Stipe. If interviews with Spooner are any indication, their collaboration inspired emotional and vocal growth the likes he had never tapped into before, and only hinted at during 2011 when he was crooning about Faye Dunaway and cinnamon toast. Anyone who has witnessed the delightfully provocative videos that have preceded Sir's release date will certainly notice that Spooner has returned a different creature altogether, vocally assertive, cut like a diamond, and draped in an air of sexually charged confidence. Nowhere is this more readily noticeable than in the album's third single "TopBrazil".
This sweat-drenched, armpit licked, spit roasted vision of liberation, takes the archetypal image of the writhing, wet, sex hungry female pop singer we've rolled our eyes at for decades, and flips it on its head. Spooner sings, "I want a Roman holiday", and a dark pleasure appears, knowing that immense heartbreak gave birth to such a fearless commentary on pop culture. German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer once wrote, "To feel envy is human, to savor schadenfreude is devilish", and throughout Sir, Spooner's misfortune seems to have yielded a wild resurgence of creativity that anyone can lap up with diabolical glee, sans any feelings of guilt.
That magic is only hinted at sparingly throughout the album's 47-minute length. Opener "Stranger Strange" arrives with a dull thud. Its angsty lyrics scream out for salvation, but the track's slow-burning mood is oddly restrained until that moment when Spooner howls "fucking fix me up up up" at the end. "Discreet" sputters by without making any impact whatsoever, and features a mind-numbingly repetitive chorus of "tonight is tonight", as if this simple phrase is some profound mantra to describe Spooner's one-off, nameless hook-up. Maybe the vapid, "sup bro" sentiment of it all was what he and his songwriting partners were striving for, but it isn't interesting.
The Andy LeMaster duet "Try Again", never really ignites, merely plateauing after the first chorus, and failing to reach the heights of its anguished lyrics, as Spooner strains to grapple with the demise of his relationship. LeMaster, lead singer of Saddle Creek indie band Now It's Overhead, has lent his production prowess to countless records since the 1990s. His engineering work on Sir might be gorgeous, but his vocal turn towards the end of the album seems like window dressing and a missed opportunity at best.
Anything on Sir that features a mix by Stuart White seems to ride high above everything else surrounding it, and all of the tracks released from the album as singles have had his golden stamp upon them. Last summer saw the arrival of "Have Fun Tonight," described on Fischerspooner's YouTube page as "a queer dance ballad about polyamory (…or polyagony) encouraging your lover to go out and have fun without you". Think of it as a darker, grittier cousin of the Scissor Sister's track "Baby Come Home", but with Beyoncé producer BOOTS thrown into the equation. Instead of pining for your partner to return home to your loving arms, you convince yourself that your bond is more significant than any one night stand, even if you're probably lying to yourself.
Others highlights include the slinky, lip-biting eroticism of "Togetherness", featuring a brilliant vocal turn by Chairlift's Caroline Polachek, the nervous, gyrating, R&B-kissed track "Butterscotch Goddam", with Brooklyn vocalist Johnny Magee, and the throbbing "Everything Is Just Alright". Every time Sir catches fire, another track like the monotonous "Get It On" slows things down to a grinding halt, or in the case of the delightful, horn-saturated track "Dark Pink", it's over before it even began. Closer "Oh Rio" comes and goes without making any impression at all, relegating indie darling Holly Miranda to the role of a ghostly, reverb-drenched footnote.
Sir looks to ruffle right-wing feathers, and it arrives at a moment when the United States is confronting the realities of a profound ideological division. At once a cry for sexual freedom and a healing balm for those looking for acceptance within and beyond the LGBTQ community, there are moments when it feels like a swift sledgehammer to the system. A handful of stellar cuts, however, cannot obscure the flawed filler around them. Four albums later, Fischerspooner have proven they are anything but a one-hit wonder. Only time will tell if those few dazzling tracks on Sir are an isolated accident or a foretaste of greater things to come.