Unfortunately for Fischerspooner, they became the face of the unfairly-mocked electroclash scene. The scene was hyped by the music press in the 2000s and it was abandoned after failing to have widespread appeal. They also received attention based on their spectacular single, ‘Emerge’. Their optimistically titled debut album, #1, was a mixed bag with some standouts that made the genius of ‘Emerge’ seem like it was not a one-off. After a divisive TOTP performance (I can still picture the bemused look on presenter Richard Blackwood’s face), a lack of sales, and some live shows that received criticism, they ended up as a punchline. Not even their wonderful Kylie remix could fix it.
This meant that when they reappeared with their unexpectedly brilliant follow-up, Odyssey (including their best song, A Kick In The Teeth), they didn’t stand a chance. After a lacklustre album in 2009, Fischerspooner went quiet for almost a decade. SIR is their fourth record and is produced by BOOTS and Michael Stipe (formerly of little-known Athens rock group, R.E.M).
Disappointingly, SIR starts with ‘Stranger Strange’, which is a directionless opener. Casey Spooner begs, “someone come and save me put me out of this hole” over a cheap droning bass-line that’s instantly monotonous. They sound bored, and they fail to make the tension-building introduction they’re aiming for. Things properly take off with, ‘TopBrazil’ which has the same electro-funk of Odyssey’s, ‘Never Win’ and ‘We Need A War’. It’s nice to be reminded of their trademark mix of dizzying backing vocals and sleek industrial synths.
Their unique brand of retro futurism is reinforced on the trippy, ‘Togetherness’, which features vocals from Caroline Polachek from the underrated group Chairlift. Her yo-yoing vocals blend well with the blissed-out synths. It creates one of SIR’s mellowest moments.
The deep bass-line in ‘Everything Is Just Alright’ is rooted back to their electroclash beginnings. Spooner repeating, “everything ging-ging, everything is just alright” is catchy. It’s one of the many songs with sexuality at the forefront. It ends with the typically brilliant Fischerspooner lyric, “I’m a man learning how to be a man’s man man”. It’s an excellent payoff for a song that smoothly pitches their subtle sense of humour against their unavoidable darkness.
They hit their mark whilst keeping themselves up to date on “Strut”. They neatly go from sultry into a glam stomp for the chorus, via an eerie pre-chorus. The distorted high-pitched vocals of ‘I Need Love’ are both hilarious and addictive. Spooner singing, “I need hugs” (which would make a great follow on from Miguel’s ‘Do You?’) is endearing and reveals his emotional side clearer than ever before.
The lyrics mostly touch upon dark subjects. Spooner reflects on the hard contrast of the heartache of a recent long-term breakup, along with the freedom it can bring. Musically, Warren Fischer offers some lighter moments. On the dizzying disco electronics of ‘Try Again’, Spooner sadly states, “every animal gets sad it does, I am no exception to this” as a mantra that makes an unlikely singalong. The bold brass and soulful backing vocals in ‘Dark Pink’ are a breath of fresh air.
SIR could benefit from some editing. Despite a cool vocoderised climax, ‘Discreet’ falls into the trap of out-staying its welcome. ‘Get On It’ goes for the spacious beauty of Junior Boys, but turns out like one of the more forgettable songs from a later Depeche Mode album. ‘Butterscotch Goddam’ sounds like an unfinished demo; it’s too out of focus to really take hold.
Michael Stipe’s attachment is likely to be the biggest talking point for SIR. His production is a big asset. Spooner referred to him as a great source of inspiration and emotional support. It’s steeped in the elements found in Fischerspooner’s previous works, whilst going deeper. At its best, SIR is a strong statement on letting loose about your identity in a time when being any kind of perceived outsider is scary. It’s questionable whether people will give this misunderstood group another chance in this shifting musical landscape. They’ve certainly given themselves a good shot.