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Fischerspooner Decides It's Time To Get Serious

By Andy Battaglia
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, April 13, 2005; Page C05

The first problem with hating Fischerspooner is that it's hard to know where to start.

A grandiloquent project started on an art-school lark, the electronic pop group is the duo of heady producer Warren Fischer and hammy frontman Casey Spooner, whose expertise lies in superficiality and spectacle. They made their name in New York's electroclash scene, staging shows of slick fashion and new wave sounds for cunning audiences consumed with discerning how and when to wink on cue.

Everybody was in on the joke: stage dancers whose makeup was smeared and clownish, gallery owners eager to commune with hip downtown kids, musicians thrilled to lip-sync and vamp in front of wind machines exhumed from airbrushed '80s nightmares. The whole phenomenon led to lots of buzz and a big-budget label deal that was almost surely inflated on both sides of the dotted line, for the story's sake.

The second problem with hating Fischerspooner is that its music is actually quite good. While most electroclash artifacts trade in kitschy shows of incompetence, Fischerspooner's debut album, "#1," soared through starry constellations of emotive anguish and anthemic whoosh. It was strong and stirring almost in spite of itself. The same goes for "Odyssey," an elaborately produced follow-up that finds Fischerspooner removing coy quotation marks from its gestures and assuming a stance more forthright than postured.

"Odyssey" was graced with an early spike of attention by way of cultural critic Susan Sontag, who before her death contributed lyrics for the track "We Need a War." The song is not especially incisive -- it repeats just a few lines about the vagaries of revenge -- but it showcases the strange currency that Fischerspooner has wandered into, for better and worse.

Guest stars dot the album: Madonna producer Mirwais lent some squiggly electronics, studio pro Linda Perry helped with songwriting and Talking Heads frontman David Byrne donated lyrics for "Get Confused." Oddly enough, however, "Odyssey" sounds like an intimately personal album by two band mates figuring out who they are and where they're going.

The first single, "Just Let Go," opens with a simmering drum-machine beat and robotic vocals trying to squirm free of the flesh-and-bone body that produced them. Spooner describes the mind liberated from anatomy as "audacious and precise," and he spends much of "Odyssey" trying to steer his brain back to that state. The songs are full of embattled volleys between emotional impulses and the troubled world in which they twitter.

Whether they're about war or love, the anxieties that singer Spooner surveys leave his every impression murky and fleeting. The music follows suit, gliding through synthetic songscapes that sound ecstatic and constricted in equal measure. In that way, the electro backdrops of "Odyssey" serve songs more than the preening nostalgia that Fischerspooner first toyed with. It's an impressive adaptation by an act whose mining has grown mindful of more than mere styles and trends.

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