No review of a Fischerspooner album could go by without using the phrase “electroclash pioneers,” could it? But wait! For most of its running time, Entertainment is more electropop than electroclash. Framed more closely within the structures of traditional songwriting than most recent dance music, it often appears to be aimed at the radio rather than the dancefloor. Fair enough, but it does alert the listener’s ear to the content rather than the style: a vulnerable position to be in for a band who have always been resolutely style-led.
The ’80s electropop template creates both the successes and failures of the album. It’s highly listenable and immaculately produced throughout, drawing heavily on the ’80s triumvirate of Depeche Mode, Pet Shop Boys and Erasure and never threatening to descend into cacophony or chaos, as early electroclash often did. The Best Revenge is a pleasingly syrupy, brassy mid-tempo number with the classic robustness of a Pet Shop Boys single; In A Modern World has all of the bubbly charm of Erasure; and throughout we’re treated to a deceptively complex and varied layering of electronic sounds worthy of any of Vince Clarke’s bands.
This plethora of synthesized instruments (guitar, mandolin, violin, glockenspiel, flute, trumpet, and so on) creates a playful mood for the album: lots of fun, if rather mannered at times. One can only guess that Warren Fischer is desperate to prove to mum and dad that a Casio was a worthwhile Christmas present after all, by using every single preset instrument that his keyboard has to offer.
The fleshed-out content also means that Entertainment is more densely packed with lyrics than previous outings, delivered with the mildly daft sense of emotional distance that’s come to be associated with mainstream electronic pop. There’s the simultaneous critique and celebration of superficiality (“What’s real? What’s fake? It’s hard to relate”). There’s the usage of capitalist metaphors to describe relationships (“I’ve got supplies, you’ve got the demand”). And, of course, there’s lots of pretending to be a robot (“We are electric”) – whatever that’s supposed to signify these days.
The feedback loop of influences creates an uncomfortable sense of self-consciousness, and raises the question why they bothered using words at all this time round. This reaches its nadir on Danse En France, a robo-pop nightmare which employs mawkish GCSE French (“J’ai envie de faire pipi”) and a slow Jean-Michel Jarre backing to recreate in disturbing detail the ’80s fascination with minimalist Parisian chic.
When, on occasion, Fischerspooner roll down their jacket sleeves and deviate from the smooth template, they sound much like they did five years ago (on the dark, treacly We Are Electric and Amuse Bouche). Which raises the question – how does Entertainment stack up against their landmark debut album #1?
In a way it’s unfair to make the comparison – electroclash was new in 2001, and their mix of sleazy techno, Kraftwerk spaciness and designer ennui genuinely pushed the boundaries of pop. Since then electro has often backed itself into darker, filthier corners; and Fischerspooner’s early stuff sounds tame by comparison. Entertainment, though, sounds tame by anyone’s standards; and by eschewing their seedy, sweaty origins in favour of clean-cut pop, they’ve dumped those elements of their act which made them unique in the first place.