[14 June 2010]
Foxy Shazam is a refreshing throwback to rock’s golden age when lead singers weren’t afraid to go a little crazy and the whole enterprise was all about having fun, albeit in an artsy kind of way.
With charismatic frontman Eric Nally as the master of ceremonies, this young Cincinnati band uses its major label debut as a grab-you-by-the-throat statement of purpose. Foxy Shazam is wildly ambitious, which Nally never hesitates to mention in interviews. Their goal: to be the biggest, most grandiose band on the planet. No shoegaze sensibilities or alt-rock sensitivity. Foxy Shazam wants to be Queen or David Bowie or Bad Company. In short, the band wants to be big-time rock stars.
This is a dangerous ploy, but great fun to watch because, let’s face it, right now rock needs some star power. The old guys are starting to fade away and the arena circuit is generally populated by AARP-y acts (Elton John, Ted Nugent, etc.) or dullards (Nickleback, Daughtry). We need a big band, one that isn’t afraid to exceed its reach, no matter how many pitfalls are in its way.
Foxy Shazam might just be the next big thing—seriously, judging from this most excellent release and the band’s reputation for theatrical live shows—or they might succumb to the usual problems, ranging from creative differences to an apathetic general public that’s not buying their mix of tongue-in-cheek glam, emo, power pop, and straightforward rock.
First things first, of course, for a band that’s still touring in clubs, and that starts with “Foxy Shazam”. With the full marketing power of Sire pushing the band, they’ve already had snippets of the song “Unstoppable” featured during the 2010 Super Bowl, and their online videos are first-rate productions. Kicking off with the sound of barking as Nally notes that “there sure are a lot of dogs out this evening” before unleashing a razor-throated scream, the band plows head-long into “Bombs Away”. It’s a little emo, a little pop, and pure tongue-in-cheek cheese-rock. In short, great fun.
Nally’s voice isn’t as rangy as Freddie Mercury’s, but he’s just as operatic and theatrical and the band’s arrangements—barreling guitars, wild piano, and full-bore rhythmic pummelings—rev up the RPMs on every song. At its core, though, Foxy Shazam has an impressive intelligence. You get the feeling that these guys are very much aware of the line between artifice and art, and they’re not afraid to trample all over it to get where they’re going. Nally even allows a peek behind a lead singer’s curtain on “Wannabe Angel”, in which he explores how much of what you see in a frontman is real and how much is just part of the show.
The song opens with an impressive cascade of piano from Sky White and then slams the accelerator down. But listen closely to the lyrics and you’ll hear Nally, a married father, sing, “I want my fans to think I’m so punk rock, so punk rock / All you hipsters say I’m gay / Well, I’m not gay at all / For you, I wear this mask, at home I tear it off / I don’t need it, no, I don’t need it all.” It’s neither self-absorbed nor whiny, just a statement of fact.
The rest of the disc rolls along with sunny, head-bobbing urgency. Part of the fun is digging into the lyrics, which are often considerably more serious than the songs’ arrangements or Nally’s delivery. “Count Me Out” is an irresistibly funky little pop workout that seems to be out an affair. Echoes of Meat Loaf give the song a late ‘70s vibe. “Bye-By Symphony” dips a toe or two in power ballad territory, but is saved by the singer’s magnetism, some doo-wop harmonies and a cool chorus: “Life is a bitch, but she"s totally doable / She’ll knock you around and she’ll lend you a hand / Life is a bitch, but she’s totally doable / She may be a beauty, but life is a bitch.”
“Oh Lord” has a faux horn intro before turning into a full-throated anthemic roar that serves its message well. Addressed to Nally’s son, the song is actually a loving father’s message to his child and pretty much what you expect from Foxy Shazam: an odd mix of baroque rock hooks, decadent-sounding power pop and an intriguing message lurking underneath.
“Foxy Shazam” is by no means perfect—“Connect” is a tedious, goofy attempt at beat-boxing with a monotonous heavy bass line and “Killin’ It” feels a bit too much like bland ‘80s pop—but it’s relentlessly entertaining and fun. Better yet, it’s the sound of a band going balls out to be great. Who says ambition’s a bad thing?