A lot of acts start losing steam after their fourth LP together, but this simply can’t be said of Fitzsimon and Brogan. In their new album This Wicked Pantomime, FaB renew their commitment to the cornerstones of classic alternative rock, and though theirs is hardly the lone indie record to catchy my attention this season, it’s one of the few that doesn’t feel smothered by its own ambitions. With so many artists getting into the recording process like never before amid pandemic panic, it would be expected to assume that This Wicked Pantomime would reflect the same over the top conceptualism as its contemporaries – instead, it takes this duo back to basics (and their best work yet).
The arrangements behind “Persuasion,” “Elsie’s Last Stand,” the flamboyant “Distorted Mirror” and title cut in the record are really abstract and seemingly hold no continuity in the tracklist – but don’t let first impressions fool you. After spending a few listening sessions with This Wicked Pantomime, I could definitely see where the multidimensionality of the melodies lends authenticity to the lyrics, and really the LP as a whole, which isn’t something that I can say about a lot of the mainstream rock albums I’ve reviewed recently.
I love the production quality in this record, and in “Lost Love of the Pixie Girl,” “Dancing Partner” and “The Sheltering Sky” I think we’re given a closer look at the intricacies within FaB’s sound than we have been in previous efforts. They’re not hiding behind synthetics or props of any kind here, and although they’ve never been the type to do so in past offerings, there’s something really crisp and uniquely finished about what this LP has to offer. This Wicked Pantomime has moments of feeling commentarial with its words, but musically this is a deconstruction of their sound at its most vulnerable and emotionally available.
The chemistry between the players here is as fresh as it was in Venus in Reverse, but with one distinct difference; it would seem as though they’ve learned how to play off of each other more efficiently than they did before. They’re not getting stuck in excesses best left on the sidelines in this album, but instead cutting out the fat and leaving more room for the substance of the storytelling to remain the focal point of the music. It’s something their younger contemporaries could stand to try on their own sometime, and I don’t think I’d be the only critic to say so.
Longtime Fitzsimon and Brogan fans won’t be disappointed by what the pair has constructed for their fifth official studio LP, and though some who aren’t familiar with their music might need a couple of listens to fully embrace the message here, I think This Wicked Pantomime will likely do well with them, too. FaB have come a long way in the last nine years, and while the journey wouldn’t appear to be over just yet, this is definitely representative of a new highpoint in their adventures together.