What possible grudge could you hold against a folk singer/songwriter with such a majestic, copious beard; such a classically literate name as William Fitzsimmons; or such an artistically plotted album cover (black and white picture, head turned stage left, mug shot-style, with nostalgic ’50’s era wallpaper in the background)? Seriously, it was as if someone, somewhere in a quiet classroom of some Ivy League school managed to distill the mathematical formula for brooding, pop-folk protagonists, shook up a few viles of chemicals, and POOF! Thus was born, William Fitzsimmons, guitar in hand, tear already wandering down his cheek as if the melancholy contained within would only hold long enough for him to play his first couple songs before spilling out all over the stage and onto a throng of adoring, hipster girls.
Come on now, just try not to well up a little after hearing the first cut, “After Afterall”. Fitzsimmons doesn’t even let the record warm up before he starts pleading “I still love you… I still want you… Will you keep me after all… Please don’t leave me,” over a breathy, steadily-beated piano. Even Pierre Bouvier would turn his head in embarrassment, cough the word “emo” to himself, and have to take a pass. It’s the schmaltziest of the schmaltz.
Which makes Fitzsimmons’ story all that more sad. The guy was (musically) raised by his parents, both blind, and both recreational musicians. He knew how to play practically half of all the instruments known to man when he was in high school, and after getting his masters degree in counseling, finally took to a musical career. And it’s here where the guilt-by-association begins. His first album, Goodnight, a heartfelt affair written around his parents’ divorce, began attracting the attention of eye-rolling silly television shows like Grey’s Anatomy and General Hospital. And in the same way that so many other acts have sold their artistic soul for the easy publicity of landing a TV spot, Fitzsimmons lent two of his songs to the shows.
Go ahead and take another listen to “After Afterall” now. Suddenly you can picture it moving achingly in the background while doctor hot pants and one of his many trollops have another conversation about their shredded ideas of love and relationships.
This is really how The Sparrow and the Crow goes throughout, as this album revolves around Fitzsimmons’ own divorce. The very next track is more of the same, “We’ll fall just like stars being hung by only string/Everything, everything, here is gone”. In an alternate universe, this tender acoustic guitar and banjo-driven melody could be something of Sam Beam or Sufjan Stevens’ quality, something truly vivid and strikingly inventive; instead, it just seems to exist as a vessel for sadness, as music driven out of genuine anguish but not artistry.
Which is not to say the album doesn’t come full circle emotionally. Fitzsimmons makes it clear, he’s screwed up big time. He’s sorry, asks forgiveness, and seems to have a sense of hope for the future (“Goodmorning”). But once again, it’s the method of getting there that so thoroughly disappoints. His music is mature and seems to be waiting for some adeptly-spun poetry to accentuate it, yet all that it gets are the ornamental equivalents of MySpace blogs. It’s pretty, but jarringly vapid. Which, rather than the author’s lost love, is the real tragedy of this album.