by Jeff Yerger
Foxy Shazam is about as unpredictable as they come. I lost sight of this for a while there. I was assuming their new album, GONZO, would follow the path of theatrical glam pop-rock its predecessors exceeded in. I was hoping this album would be their biggest and catchiest yet, but Foxy Shazam is anything but predictable.
I can honestly say that I never saw GONZO coming, because really, I never would’ve thought this band had it in them. This is a statement record, one few bands dare to make. They followed up a heavily produced glam rock record produced by Justin Hawkins of The Darkness (The Church of Rock and Roll) with a raw piece of angry indie rock produced by the master of angry indie rock, Steve Albini (Nirvana, Pixies, PJ Harvey). On GONZO, Foxy Shazam have ditched their theatrics for minimalism, and are quite literally having their In Utero moment.
Recorded all in one day on Halloween this past year, GONZO is about as authentic and stripped as they come. “[The album] was written in a room, recorded in a room, all together,” singer Eric Nally states in the album’s press release. “It was a shared experience, and an easier process, and things really started to come out. It was a very organic experience, and it shows. And I can read [GONZO] like a book, like a cohesive piece of art. It’s by far the most personal album to me.”
GONZO is in fact a very dark record. It follows a loose story line about a man (or Muppet?) struggling with fame and being away from his family (something which Nally has been no stranger to singing about in the past). For a band known in the past for not taking themselves too seriously, lines like “A picture of me with a smile that I’m not faking / I wish things were the way they are when the picture was taken” in the excellent “Shoebox,” hit pretty hard. Nally sounds hurt, tired, and frustrated (“I got no cash flow man I’m working… It’s a tragic thrill. I’m finding out who I was, who I really am”). His voice is shredded and strained to the limit, like a man on his last leg, especially as he wails, “I’m not afraid to die ‘cause I’m already dead,” on “Have the Fun.” While teenage angst may have paid off well for Kurt Cobain, Eric Nally just feels bored and old.
A friend of mine pointed out that GONZO kinda sounds like an unfinished demo. While it’s slightly more professional than that, he does have a point. Even for an Albini production, GONZO sounds REALLY sparse. As is typical with Albini, each instrument is mic’d far away and indirectly, making the room itself an instrument. You can hear the sound from each instrument reverberate off every corner and crevice, and because of the polished Foxy records we’ve come to know and love in the past, this album sounds extra bare. There are no overdubbed vocals and no double-tracked or layered guitars. Everything is exposed.
Bassist Daisy Caplan said in a recent Reddit AMA that all the songs on GONZO were recorded in consecutive order with everyone in one room, and with the same set up for each song. “There are less than five overdubs on the whole record, no overdubbed vocal harmonies, and about 1/3 of the songs are actually first takes,” writes Caplan. He also mentioned that the vocals, which usually require a separate booth for recording to reduce sound bleeding, were recorded live in the room with the guitar amps and drums. “Even Steve Albini thought we were crazy.” The result is a jarring change in sound for Foxy, but the energy and spontaneity of this record is undeniable and at times, downright beautiful. For instance, there’s a moment on “In This Life” after the second chorus where the guitar and piano build upon this riff they’ve been hinting at the whole song into an understated crescendo. It’s typical Foxy grandioso, but in a different way.
GONZO is going to piss a lot of Foxy Shazam fans off. That’s just a fact of life with a record like this, but I think at the same time, this record is going to earn them tons of respect. I don’t think GONZO their best record (that would be their last one), but I do think this is their most cohesive and honest effort to date. This is a scathing record; a therapeutic primal scream from a band that could no longer laugh away the hurt. I think this is something that they needed to get off their chest, and the fact that they recorded this all in one day shows that they wanted to get these demons out and not dwell on any of it. As I mentioned before, not a lot of bands have the balls to do something like this, so you have to give credit where credit is due. With GONZO, Foxy Shazam have taken a big step in their journey. Which direction this step is in I haven’t a clue, but I’m not even going to try to predict.
Stream and download the album for FREE at foxyshazam.com.