Phoebe Lease ’21 | Arts Editor
William Fitzsimmons is no stranger to heartache and once again tackles the issue with grace in his newest album.
“Mission Bell” works through the breakup and rebuilding of his relationship with his second wife, never shying away from the visceral pain of his divorce. As with his previous work, Fitzsimmons avoids showy, bold instrumentation and chooses to shine the focus on his soft vocals and intimate lyrics.
The album was first recorded in 2017 in Fitzsimmons’ home but was put on the back burner during his divorce. In 2018, he moved to Nashville and spent a month reworking the songs from scratch with producer Adam Landry.
This is his first analog-tape-centric album, which lends a raw honesty to the songs that are sometimes missing in heavily produced and edited work. He says, “There’s a specialness you get in a performance when you don’t have a parachute. You either play it like it matters to you or you don’t and I think that comes through so clearly in the recordings.”
There is a clear theme of love and loss in the album, a common topic in Fitzsimmons discography. Highlights include the song “Wait For Me,” a painful account of pining for someone who has hurt you and moved on. He says “it’s about wanting so much to have hope to hang on to, but also wanting to be put out of your misery as soon as possible.” The song asks succinctly: “You broke my heart … can you wait for me?”
“Distant Lovers” is another strong piece, diving right into the aching emptiness of divorce with specific details of child custody and lack of closure: “I was scared you would never really love me/ or break my heart in the end/ would trade it all if I could only say goodbye.” While the lyrics are pensive, some parts of the album are too simple for their own good.
In some parts, Fitzsimmons struggles to give new perspective to common subjects, only describing romance in vague terms: overused imagery of shared cigarettes, red-wine and moonlit nights.
His past as a mental health counselor certainly gives credibility to songs like “17 + Forever” and “In the Light,” two songs about abuse, isolation and self-harm, but these songs are about fictional people or family friends and feel somewhat out of place on an album about a romantic relationship.
The full LP will be out on Sept. 21, and several music videos for the album’s singles have already been received with high praise from supporters and critics alike. “Mission Bell” is undoubtedly a good piece of work, and the risk of using analog tape pays off in the earthy feel of the music. The lack of specificity in the lyrics, especially compared to earlier work like “Until We Are Ghosts,” may come as a disappointment to listeners; however, it could also work to the album’s advantage, with the indeterminate nature of the music lending itself to relatability.
Whether “Mission Bell” will be considered Fitzsimmons’ best work to date is up for debate, but fans will certainly find the familiar emotional catharsis that they have come to expect from this artist’s music.