ischerspooner’s #1 was perhaps more demonstrative as a fad than as an album-for better or worse, it single-handedly embodied the fickle glamour of ‘electroclash,’ one of the decade’s most quickly dissolving sub-genres. A post-modern pastiche of tongue-in-cheek dance foppery, perfectly illustrated by the back-alley homoeroticism of its bristle-cheeked cover shot, the record ultimately failed to live up to their Bowie and Moroder influences. Like many records dependent on irony, its cock-eyed charm looked too smarmy mirrored in the looking glass. Rerecorded in an attempt to capture the propulsion of their European dance-floor hit, “Emerge,” the album didn’t have any legs, and was forgotten almost as quickly as it hit the shelves.
Of course, many of the album’s problems had little to do with its composition and more with its springing from a group that had already made a grand statement in other mediums. Fischerspooner was a carnival of techno delights-a presentation that smirked at the juxtaposition of eighties worship with post-modern electronic touches. They were notorious for twenty-person stage-shows and multimedia onslaughts, all too impossible to fit on a small plastic disc. Without this legendary live show and stage-wide personnel to surround them, leadman Casey Spooner and multi-instrumentalist, electro-expert Warren Fischer seemed to fall back too readily on jaded hipper-than-thou swooning. The music lacked the ironic posturing of its visual accompaniment at times, went too far beyond it at others, and suffered in the void. Even in a post-aught pop world dominated by singles-charts and mix-records, it seemed sparse, more pomp and circumstance than substance.
Perhaps that explains the calm-before-the-storm silence that greets their sophomore album, Odyssey. More importantly, perhaps the acknowledgement of their debut’s spotty stand-outs explains Odyssey’s cohesion. If there’s a single quality that ties these songs together, it’s consistency of scope and sound. Recruiting celebrity compatriots like Susan Sontag, who contributes lyrics for the toothless Bush assault “We Need a War,” and David Byrne, the band stacks Odyssey with AM gold melodies and cheap-Brut swoon. Claiming to have worked under the influence of the Beatles and the Beach Boys, the band used Tony Hoffer and producer Mirwais, known for his work with pop stars like Madonna and Chrstina Aguilera, to flush out the disco-pop that diva-ed out the herb and coke of the sixties and seventies. The result is a bit more permasmile in their grooves. Opener “Just Let Go” is a dazzling cascade, swirling on bass pulses and subtle snare hits. Against great grinding guitar strokes, the song’s anthemic swing slowly builds into a jittery Ritalin-rush.
As “I Lost Myself” leaves the stadium behind for a cranky spitstorm, Fischerspooner’s album-wide visions begin to take shape. The deep multi-layered production moves to the front, as well as Spooner’s hazy, track-wide vocals. “Never Win” completes the opening trio’s claim to a single voice. Swaggering guitars are pushed to the fore, and Mirwais’ production is thick but tight, pushing the fat-assed bass pulse beyond reason into a crystalline level sure to be familiar to the TRL set.
And yet, the album’s consistency is also its largest pitfall. Once “Kick in the Teeth” juggles its chiming tones and mad-floor harmonies into misfire, Odyssey begins to congeal into one long track. Clean disco-pulses and Spooner’s hazy, oblique lyrics remind of the album’s opening salvo with an almost eerie sense of déjà vu. “Everything to Gain” and “Wednesday” only prod this retread feel-more good but ultimately indistinguishable neo-pop. Sontag’s “We Need a War” is another bubbling pop anthem, but it’s a false fire lit by Sterno and charcoal. Sontag’s more-than-obvious critique of Bush’s attempts to overcome his domestic failures by embracing international ones is shaved thin by the song’s now-familiar backdrop.
Fortunately, as the album closes, Fischerspooner offers a set of songs that sound welcomingly out of place. “Ritz 107” drools incognizant on Eleanor Rigby strings and understated electronic bed-scapes, while “All We Are” sounds like Abba star-gazing through technology’s shattered kaleidoscope--twisted color spheres and dark moons gone phosphorescent and splintering the eye. As the whirring Kraftwerk autobahnscapes of “O” grind the album’s dance-floor joys into so much glittery paste, so much well-crafted nonsense, and genius, it’s still hard to understand what Fischerspooner’s hold will be ultimately. Electroclash was too short-lived to ever hold a band capable of more than one record, and it’s a genre I’m sure Fischerspooner is thankful to leave behind. At the very least, and the utmost, Odyssey is a work of aspiring competence.