FORGOTTEN ALBUMS OF THE 90′S: FOSSIL’S FOSSIL
For my money, fall is the most understated—and underrated—season. The weather is beautiful, the holidays are inspired (I don’t know which tradition I love more; handing out candy to trick-or-treaters on Halloween or handing out smallpox-infected blankets to native Americans on Columbus Day), and the days seem to pass with a perfect mix of productivity and relaxation. On the downside, though, compared to winter, spring, and summer, it’s difficult to find music that encapsulates the feel of fall.
It’s not just that this New York-based band’s self-titled disc includes a track called “Fall,” paying melancholy tribute to the descent of the leaves from the trees. It’s not even the sharp melodies or clever lyrics that are found at every turn on the album. This recording carries a certain aura throughout that makes it the ideal soundtrack to a cozy autumn night. Fossil isn’t entirely immune from the flaws that plague many artists’ debut albums, but this is a band that is remarkably—and justifiably—confident in its sound right from the beginning. Somehow, they managed to come up with a record that wouldn’t be out of place in a 90s alternative rock collection but doesn’t sound like anything else. Perhaps one could compare the group to Polaris, the jangly indie-rock outfit often heard in episodes of the classic Nickelodeon series, The Adventures of Pete and Pete, but suffice to say that even the most cynical of listeners couldn’t accuse Fossil of jumping on the grunge bandwagon here.
That said, the band does know how to rock out, kicking the album off with the energetic “Moon.” With a riff destined to seep into your subconscious, “Moon” was the obvious lead single here, and its cheesy space B-movie parody video should be enough to make anyone a believer:
“Moon” is clearly the band’s masterpiece, but the song that really exhibits everything great about Fossil is “Ocean,” a luscious example of the trademark 90s soft/hard dynamic. Layered with echo and decadent harmonies on the hook “Bury me in the ocean,” the ethereal track is an under-the-radar gem, buried in the middle of an album full of breezy, addictive melodies. “Molly” is another standout, not least because of the unusual titular character its lyrics describe: “Molly wears a leisure suit / No makeup, almost no perfume / She revels in her androgyny.” The guitars here are straight out of R.E.M.—rewrite the lyrics and make them about, I dunno, Andy Kaufman, and you’ve got a great Automatic for the People B-side.
As you might expect from “Molly,” Fossil has a knack for putting a twist on love songs. The slightly psychedelic “Martyr’s Wife” is from the perspective of a girl “dating a boy named Jesus,” and while I won’t spoil the twist in “Fiancée,” suffice to say the narrator might want to arm himself with a pre-nup.
Singer/guitarist Bob O’Gureck’s admittedly nasal, quirky vocals—think a male Gwen Stefani going through puberty—might be a turn-off for some, particularly on slower tracks such as the dismal, anticlimactic closer “Cargo of High Hopes,” but songs like “Josephine Baker” (a “Pictures of Lily”-esque ode to the deceased dancer) and the quaintly charming “You” transcend any awkwardness. It’s a moot point on uptempo cuts—his sharp conviction sells every bit of the lyrically underwhelming “Thundershower.”
Managed by Hilly Kristal, founder of the legendary CBGB, Fossil never recorded another album, and only a few other tracks (including a promo-only Christmas song) were ever issued. O’Gureck apparently makes his living now as a real estate agent in New Jersey, not the most expected fate for a guy who wrote a song about a heavily-tattooed transvestite (…or is it?). Either way, this is one Fossil well worth excavating.