(feat. track – “Intro / Bombs Away”)
I had a really tough time figuring out how to write about Foxy Shazam. I know that nothing I say below is going to adequately describe them, their music, the “Foxy Shazam” album, their essence. The only real way to convey any of what I’m going to attempt to explain below is to make you listen to the album yourself. The whole thing, preferably. Of course, I can’t do that. But please, I beg you, take the time to do so. I don’t ask much of you usually, right? So do me this one favor.
If I can’t convince you to do that, I suppose you may as well read on. At least click play up top while you read. That’s the first track of “Foxy Shazam,” and I can pretty much promise that when it is done playing you will be dying to hear the rest. In the meantime, you are about to read my best efforts. They are futile. I know this already, but what else can I do?
The thing is, to write about music, there needs to be some sort of frame of reference. I’m at a loss trying to describe something totally new. I might as well be telling you the snozzberry gum tastes like snozzberries. It’s not that the component pieces – Queen, Meatloaf, 70’s arena rock, 50’s rock-n-roll, a smidge of 80’s synthpop and blue-eyed soul, a drip of gospel, the slimmest remnants of chaotic post-hardcore – are hard to identify; it’s that they’re the sort of bits nobody in their right mind would attempt to emulate, because there’s no possible way to get them right.
Except, of course, that Foxy Shazam did, brilliantly. And then they took those pieces and synthesized something quite literally beyond imagination. “Foxy Shazam” is eminently familiar, and yet I can honestly say I’ve never heard anything like it before, never even dreamed something like it before. That such innovation is even possible within the “rock” formula gives me hope for the future. I know that sounds like hyperbole; I would just state that “Foxy Shazam” is so wildly original that only the most hyperbolic statements even begin to capture its essence.
Foxy Shazam excel in excess, “Foxy Shazam” is if nothing else a celebration of the gloriously-over-the-top. “Emo,” or at least its circa-2005 iteration, was frequently hard to take seriously because its performers were so overly serious. Foxy Shazam are intentionally, knowingly larger than life, and because of it, the emotional depth of their music seems far more earnest and real. “Foxy Shazam” is, to my mind, the most truly honestly passionate rock album in years. No moaning about unbearable pains or black eyes and souls. On “Bye Bye Symphony,” frontman Eric Nally sings “life is a bitch / but she’s totally, totally doable,” and really, isn’t that the truth for most of us deep down?
Lyrically, Nally specializes in taking those loopy desires and oversized dreams we all hold dear but close, the ones we know are silly but treasure anyway, and blowing them up on the big screen. “Wannabe Angel” is self-explanatory; same with “Unstoppable.” But he also gives the same treatment to fears and doubts, soaring them to the heavens like a Broadway star. “If I was there for you / well then my dreams, they can’t come true / If I was there for them / I lose my family and my friends / what do I do?” he wails on “Connect”. Or witness “The Only Way To My Heart…” (Hint: it’s “with an axe”).
On “Second Floor,” Nally scurries out a window to find himself “down here with the lower class / down here with the idiots, yeah!” Is “idiots” affectionate, like Mad Magazine’s “The Usual Gang Of Idiots” or the 2004 Boston Red Sox, a sort of reclaimed term of endearment? Is it disparaging, a little bit of cognitive dissonance leaking through as he tries to explain away his “chosen” new station in life? And how do the “idiots” themselves take it? That there is so much going on in one line is a testament to Nally’s strength as a lyricist. And these sorts of sentences and sentiments are the norm in his writing. “Foxy Shazam” is as dense a piece of pop music as I can recall, which makes it all the more spectacular that it’s so goddamn FUN.
An then, of course, there’s their live show. The first time I saw Foxy Shazam live, at this year’s Bamboozle, their performance was abruptly cut off mid-song, with Nally hanging upside down by his feet from a rafter, Batman-style. This after 30 minutes that included: Nally betting various audience members $20 that they couldn’t kill him; an experiment in ear-splitting feedback that must have been audible across the festival grounds; and a fully-devoured pack of cigarettes (eaten, not smoked). Whether the ending was staged, I will never know, and I’m not sure I care. There’s no way a record this good should work even better live, but Foxy Shazam aren’t just genius musicians, they’re genius performance artists.
I’m pretty certain this would be my #1 album even had I not seen them live this year, but that performance all but sealed the deal. (I had the pleasure of seeing them twice more this Fall; they were every bit as incredible the second and third time). And I should mention, lest it get lost in all the gory details, they are indeed fantastic sounding live too. Keyboardist Sky White, when not leaping up and down on his keyboard and making scary faces to be printed on band t-shirts, is a virtuoso instrumentalist; horn player / background singer Alex Nauth adds verve and depth; and the rest of the band is tight and strong and gutsy.
I’m actually torn about linking to some YouTube footage. Part of me wants you to see just how incredible/ridiculous/groundbreaking/mindblowing their live sets can be; part of me really doesn’t want to ruin them for you if you haven’t gotten to experience them in person. I leave the choice to you, humble reader.
So as far as convincing goes, that’s about all I’ve got. The only thing left I can tell you is this: I downloaded Foxy Shazam’s previous CD, “Introducing”, when it came out a couple years ago. I didn’t like it. It didn’t do anything for me. I filed it away and didn’t really think about it again. Then “Foxy Shazam” leaked this past winter, an unfinished, un-mixed version. I was planning on ignoring it, but people kept raving about it. Eventually I gave in and decided I was going to give it one play, just one.
I must have listened to it ten times that night. A totally raw version, missing instrumental parts, missing background vocals, missing solos, sometimes even missing song intros and outros. It didn’t matter. It was that moment in The Wizard Of Oz, where suddenly the whole magical world goes from black and white to Technicolor. And nothing has looked the same since.