By Rob van Alstyne
By Zach McCormick
By Emily Eveland
By Jack Spencer
By Michael Madden
By Reed Fischer
By Emily Weiss
By Emily Weiss
Unless I'm getting it wrong. Maybe FS's "The 15th" is Romanticism in the original Rousseau sense--a world in which art and science are a giant bell jar, sucking the lifeforce from the human race. And who is a bigger casualty of this idea than art-school freaks, for whom artistic license is the freedom to say absolutely nothing? Listening to FS does kind of make me feel like I've just been injected with formaldehyde, for what it's worth. That is to say, it makes me feel arty.
Wire--also art-school dudes, but from England, where art schools are like our business schools--realized early on that the hermetic space of synthesized sound could be vastly more oppressive than a blaring wall of fuzzed-out guitar amps. Gradually, Wire added more keyboards to their sound, and as for the guitar...well, in short, they tried to play it more like a keyboard (Colin Newman's guitar riff on "The 15th" is a tight, staccato pulse). If Robert Gotobed's live drums weren't replaced by a drum machine, they may as well have been, as his percussion became more modular and less inflected. Wire's music didn't create a world in which rhythm was a metonym for the heart, as in African music; it was a world in which the machine was a metonym for rhythm--the oblivious hum of subway tunnels and hydroturbines, meditative and disconcerting.
The lyrics hum as well. Colin Newman's laconic wordage refined punk nihilism. In "The 15th," he plays gerunds like obtuse jazz chords ("Providing/Deciding/It was/Soon there"), savoring their ambiguity. The passive, past-tense verbs in the lyrics refer to an "it," whose identity is cloaked in a semantic fog: "Reviewed, it seemed/As if someone were watching over it/Before it was/As if response were based on fact." It's a corporate report as written by Samuel Beckett. The final frontier of punk expressiveness--beyond physical gesture--is eclipsed, as language itself is finally "synthesized," robbed of psychology and action. Not only is there no reason to act, there's no one to act, and nothing to act upon. Yet Fischerspooner treat these brittle lyrics as a bathetic conversation overheard from a ladies' room stall, or a disembodied voice on your answering machine, telling you to please hold for an important message.
FS also gloss over a crucial moment in the original recording that presaged post-rock and DJ methodology for the next ten years: the instrumental outro, in which the drums and bass disappear and later drop back into the song. The tension in this rhythmless break, and the surprise when it's relieved, is now hip-hop convention. FS apishly preserve the arrangement, but here, there's no momentum to be broken, there's no relief when the beat comes back in. We just don't care. Their take on the outro isn't just a fundamental misunderstanding of the song, but a misunderstanding of disco, let alone rock. It's a disappointment that's repeated again and again over the course of the album.
Maybe FS's received notions of Eurodisco aesthetics are truly a kind of meta-nihilism, and thus an appropriate artifact of our times. I'll hand it to them: I'm feeling pretty damn apathetic right now. I don't want to dance or listen. If this feeling progresses and I feel so apathetic that I can't bother to take this CD out of the player, then I'll really start to worry. It will mean the difference between not giving a fuck and not knowing what it is to give a fuck.