Part four of the neverending best-of list. In this episode: backhanded compliments!
My parents made the mistake of buying me a Walkman while I was still in grade school, and afterward I wouldn’t go anywhere without headphones clamped onto my ears, especially on trips to visit family in Monticello. As a young hesher, I didn’t have a varied palette, and at any given time the tinny sounds bleeding out of those headphones was likely to be one of the big four: Anthrax, Megadeth, Slayer or Metallica.
On one visit to the family, my uncle Robert handed me a tape of “Queen II.” I wandered to another part of my Granny’s house to listen to it. I don’t think I made it through side one before taking it out, dropping it somewhere and forgetting all about it. I just didn’t get it at all. It would be years before I realized what an opportunity I missed that day. I firmly believe that when someone gets Queen for the first time, it changes their musical landscape forever. It certainly did for me. The theatricality, the refusal to be classified, the ability to back up the audacious choices with top-notch musicianship… It all combines to redefine what is possible or acceptable in rock music. With songs like “Under Pressure” and “Fat Bottom Girls,” beautifully crafted pieces of rock-and-roll perfection, they earn every bit of leeway they ask for. As much as I love Queen, though, I never really listen to any of their albums straight through. Their eclecticism makes for great songs, but the albums can feel disjointed as a result.
The same cannot be said for Foxy Shazam’s “Introducing Foxy,” (click link to listen to the album at Lala.com) a spastic, hyperactive record that I never expected to enjoy but find I can’t get enough of. Whereas Queen showed their many influences and personalities in their wide range of songs, Foxy Shazam seems to want to cram all of their stylistic shifts into each composition. The result is an album that has a cohesive sound, despite jumping around within each song like an Adderall-crazed lab ape, all flailing limbs and slobber. Trying to accurately describe what this band sounds like is difficult. The songs are miniature carnivals of rock, soul, screamo, pop and theater. Piano and guitar careen wildly about while the rhythm section pounds away, and over it all vocalist Eric Nally grunts and whinnies like a Broadway star in fits of epilepsy. In short, I should hate this, but somehow out of this frenetic racket emerges some of the catchiest hooks and the most fist-pumping-dramatic choruses I’ve heard all year.
This is not a deep record, by any means. It could be accused of being too much style over substance, but I feel like that misses the point of a record like this. It’s exuberant and fun, like a summer blockbuster that is just smart enough to keep those of with brains sitting in the seats. Whether the goofiness of the album is intended or an earnest-but-misguided attempt at something more, it’s entertaining, and that’s all I really need from an album sometimes.