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Wednesday, Apr 23 2003
Pop without artifice is like Britney without implants. If we didn't want a little fakery with our rhythm and blues, we'd be listening to scratchy old Folkways 78s. But every so often an act is so over-the-top in its self-presentation that it's hard to see beyond the spangles and glam. Staging decadent tableaux in New York galleries and relentlessly promoting itself as the future of art, the performance troupe Fischerspooner falls into this camp.

Camp, of course, is key. Like Kiss, Frankie Goes to Hollywood, or Gorillaz, Fischerspooner verges on cartoonlike. It's less a band than a multimedia sensation -- and, appropriately enough, Capitol has released its long-delayed debut album (the original came out in the U.K. in 2002) accompanied by a DVD collection of videos and behind-the-scenes footage detailing the group's theatrical spectacle. Even rock purists will find it hard to remain unmoved by Fischerspooner's outlandish costuming, wild mythologizing, and sheer will-to-excess.

On a purely musical level, though, #1 is striking for its simplicity. The album's 13 songs tread a fairly uniform synth-pop terrain indebted to early '80s Depeche Mode as well as to contemporary revivalists like Detroit's Adult. Arpeggios throb, handclaps explode in dry staccato patterns, and singer Casey Spooner sings wanly through miles of wiring. But the tunes lack neither energy nor charm. The single and club hit "Emerge" epitomizes the band's technique, using repetition to its advantage. Fidgety electro beats and shape-shifting chords build to a delicious climax without ever really doing anything: It's enough, the tune seems to be saying, to move through the changes, sidewinding through a game of theme and variation. (The song's chorus -- "You don't need to/ Emerge from nothing" -- suggests the same idea, offering an oddly affirming bit of pop messaging.) Tracks like "Sweetness," "The 15th," and, well, most of the rest of the disc all replay the same pattern, layering hollow-toned synthesizers over uncomplicated beats and using hyperactive handclaps for emphasis. Still, #1 is hardly one-dimensional: Even its most straightforward songs are marked by an uncommon depth of tone and interrupted by strange bursts of noise and silence. Casey Spooner has professed to loathe nostalgia, but it would be foolish to overlook the influence of new wave on #1. This is the freshest retro has sounded in years.

About The Author

Philip Sherburne


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