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FOSSIL (Buy CDs by this artist)
Crumb EP (Sire/Warner Bros.) 1994
Fossil (Sire/Warner Bros.) 1995

Pictured variously on their records as sooty '40s laborers, a quartet of cardigan-wrapped frat rats beaming around the Xmas bush and a foppish table of swells tucking into champagne and cake under an ornate candelabrum, the New Jersey-spawned Fossil generates an equally ambivalent message with its music: eager to please, anxious to impress and unafraid to come off as sentimental weenies without so much as a knowing wink. Grandiose electric popsters on one hand and ready-to-rock indie club coolers on the other, Fossil owe their handsome glossy polish to co-producer Ivan Ivan, who did similar-sounding work for Figures on a Beach in the mid-'80s.

Crumb introduces the group with four songs, two of which don't reappear on Fossil. In a complex procession of harmonically rich guitar chords and leads, singer/co-producer Bob O'Gureck's echoed vocals and lyrics attempt to deflate Hallmark love sentiments while indulging in them. "Moon" is breathtaking in its lush energy. Meanwhile, the complete text of "Tim," which weaves a touch of feedback into its U2-like guitar folds and swoony Beatle harmonies, is "Lullaby/You're so tired/Please shut your eyes/Goodnight." Pretty daring stuff for credibility-seekers in the mid-'90s. (Even stranger, Fossil's next artifact was Snow Day, a promotional-only green-vinyl 10-inch of two cloying seasonal originals, an instrumental and "Moon.")

Starting off with "Moon" and "Tim," the full-length Fossil finally reveals O'Gureck's lyrical imagination in "Martyr's Wife," a bizarre fantasy in the words of Jesus Christ's girlfriend ("He talks in metaphors/He is a public nuisance"); "Josephine Baker," a posthumous crush song that takes after "Pictures of Lily"; "Molly," a futile love plea delivered as a semi-acoustic breeze; and "Fiancée," a cinematic disappearance mystery. With none of the diverse tracks packing anything near the visceral thrill of "Moon," Fossil conveys the uncomfortable feel of a graduate-school project, an investigation of sonic and lyrical modes to test theories of music market conquest or something. Too offbeat to be mainstream accessible and too mushy for left-of-the-dial respectability, Fossil is a weird and pretty rock whose origins are hard to discern.

[Ira Robbins]