CD Review of Odyssey by Fischerspooner

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starstarstarhalf starno star Label: Capitol
Released: 2005
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Lest Capitol Records accuse me of ignoring Fischerspooner’s sophomore effort, Odyssey, in favor of a rant against Copy Control technology, let me go on the record within the first sentence of this review and say that Messrs. Fischer and Spooner have come up with some fine new songs.

Unfortunately, when it comes to the disc on which they reside…? I’d like to shatter it with a hammer, then throw the remaining shards down the garbage disposal for maximum destruction.

I don’t know how much awareness the general public has of Copy Control, but it begins with the premise that music journalists who receive advance copies of albums to review are responsible for leaking songs onto file-sharing services, and it’s designed to prevent that from occurring. The end result, however, is that Copy Controlled discs tend not to play properly on some computers – you’re forced to use a player that’s imbedded in the disc rather than your computer’s default player, and, though I can’t speak for anyone else, the Copy Control player causes the songs to stutter when they play – and, given that most writers tend to listen to albums on their computer as they’re writing their reviews, this is a real pain in the ass. It’s also insulting, given that it finds the music industry taking the mindset that music critics are the ones guilty of doing the leaking ...because, of course, it could never be people within the industry itself or – heaven forbid – within the camps of some of the artists themselves.

Anyway, to sum up: songs good, disc bad, Copy Control technology the devil. That having been said, we now return you to your regularly scheduled review.

So what’s the deal, exactly, with ‘80s-inspired synth-powered artists suddenly deciding to claim that their sound has evolved to be “more organic”? First, Dirty Vegas alleged such a change on their sophomore effort, and, now, on their second album, Fischerspooner has offered much the same statement. Guys, I hate to break it to you, but if I was looking for a more organic sound, I’d be listening to the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, not Fischerspooner. Fortunately, it’s less that Odyssey sounds more organic as it is that the duo have opted to focus more on writing catchier pop hooks.

With the group’s aptly-titled debut, #1, the radio hit – and album highlight – was a cover of Wire’s “The 15th”…and when an album’s focal point is a cover, even a relatively obscure one that’s performed as well as this one was, it’s not a good sign. It’s not that the album was bad; it was just kind of a snooze in places. With Odyssey, however, Fischerspooner have attempted to cast a much wider net to capture potential listeners, and who can blame them? Besides, it’s not really selling out if all you’re doing is tweaking your pre-existing sound, is it?

If some of Odyssey’s songs find you thinking, “Hey, if you only had Madonna singing this, it would be the best, dance track, everrrrrrr,” it may not surprise you to find that Mirwais, who famously worked with the Material Girl on Music, co-produced the album. From there, the boys got David Byrne to contribute lyrics to “Get Confused,” and the late Susan Sontag provided similar assistance on “We Need a War.” Finally, in an attempt to blatantly and unabashedly score mainstream acceptance, they brought in Linda Perry. Perry – who, no matter how many hit songs she may write for other people, will never redeem herself for singing on 4 Non Blondes’ “What’s Up” – may have served as co-writer on “Happy,” “All We Are,” and “Kick in the Teeth,” but they aren’t necessarily the tracks that scream “big freakin’ hit.” (The victor in that contest would be “Never Win.”)

If someone dropped a copy of Odyssey through a time warp back to the early ‘80s, it would probably be a hit, as few would suspect that it hadn’t been recorded in that decade. (Mind you, if they dropped it in 1997, the band Joy Electric would say, “Hey, we just recorded this album, except we called it Robot Rock, didn’t use any ‘special guest stars,’ and, come to think of it, ours is actually better than yours.”) Whether it’ll catch the ears of today’s radio listeners is way too hard to predict, but one thing’s for sure: you can’t say Fischerspooner didn’t try.

~Will Harris