Like Betty White, over-the-top rock ‘n’ roll bands are not subject to the vagaries of time and are best appreciated with a knowing camp wink. So if you’re naming your album The Church of Rock and Roll as the rowdy Cincinnati crew Foxy Shazam have done with their fourth full length, you sure as heck better come correct. And that goes double if your band name is “Foxy Shazam”.
Rock ‘n’ roll is some (cough) holy ground, starting with the Patron Saint, Little Richard, and running a throughline to modern practitioners like the Darkness (with whom FS has toured, and whose frontman, Justin Hawkins, produced and engineered The Church of Rock and Roll) and Steel Panther. Curiously, Foxy Shazam opts to explore the first half of their bombastic album title, at times ignoring the rock ‘n’ roll in favor of theatrical gospel, dance and pop sounds. For millennia, people have to turned to the church for answers, and The Church of Rock and Roll is a transitional album from a band looking where to go next.
Frontman Eric Nally follows two guide-stars throughout: Queen’s Freddie Mercury, whose ghost should be receiving royalty checks from Foxy Shazam’s lawyers any day now—and whose band’s living members should consider calling instead of Adam Lambert—and less promisingly, the Darkness’ ill-fated cautionary tale of a sophomore disc, One Way Ticket To Hell… and Back.
Fun, cheeky, decidedly un-PC-and-proud-of-it moments like “I Like It” (as in, “That’s the biggest black ass I’ve ever seen and ...”) get pushed to the wayside in favor of gospel-singer, string and horn section numbers like “Holy Touch”, “Last Chance at Love” and “Wasted Feelings”—the latter two of which sound uncannily like late-‘80s Whitney Houston (!). The band can write the hell out of a chorus that’ll get the lighters (or lighter apps, these days) out, but it’s not really rock and roll.
It’s the same mistake the Darkness made (although presumably not dune under mountains of cocaine): they teamed up with “Bohemian Rhapsody” producer Roy Thomas Baker, forgot to do what they did best (read: rock out), hid a lack of substance with bombast and churned out something Meat Loaf’s brother might’ve released in 1981 to zero fanfare.
But back to The Church of Rock and Roll: the standout moments—“I Like It”, the life on the road parody/lament “Together Forever”, the actual scuff ‘n’ menace of “I Wanna Be Yours”, the within-shouting-distance-of-Axl’s-desert-church-wedding guitar solo of album closer “Freedom”—show a band with plenty still up its choir-robed sleeves, but The Church of Rock and Roll tips far too much toward the former to truly serve the latter.
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// Notes from the Road
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