(editor’s note – this album was reviewed, and the article below written by, CultureMass’s newest scribe, Thomas Martin Ray.)
I avoided Foxy Shazam for a very long time. I think a big part of it was their moniker; it just sounds like the name of a band that I would loathe. Several of my friends raved about their live performances, so I absentmindedly checked out a handful of their songs and promptly forgot about them. With that being said; Foxy’s new record Gonzo has made a believer out of me, and I regret my past disinterest.
Legendary producer Steve Albini, most well known for his work on Nirvana’s In Utero, took the helm on this project and it shows through in the tone of the album. On the first listen, Gonzo kind of sounds like the members of Spoon walked into the desert and ate a lot of peyote, then added a new singer and a horn section. Fuzzed out guitars and bass are heavily utilized, but never attempt to hog all of the attention. The drummer sets up and accents melodic lines well, but knows when to just lay back and groove. Soaring horns float throughout the record, sometimes taking over the melody and other times providing a counter to the vocals. The organs and synthesizers fill up the extra space without causing the sound to overflow, so to speak.
Gonzo’s title track is first on the album and serves as a sort of mission statement, with the singer half-singing and half-screaming, “I’m going Gonzo!” throughout. It may be a bit too obvious for some listener’s tastes, but it works well as a set-up of what’s to come. The next two songs are harder rockers, but don’t try to sound heavier than they need to be. On “Tragic Thrill”, Foxy Shazam ease up on the effects for a bit for a lighter jam, but that shouldn’t be taken to mean that they lose steam in any way. Despite a happy tone the lyrics are melancholy, professing, “Waiting, waiting, waiting for something, I don’t know what […] It’s a tragic thrill, I’m finding out who I was, who I really am.” The second half of the record is generally more understated and subtle than the first, which is both a good and bad thing. Despite enjoying every track, I found myself wishing for the more up-tempo grooves of the first half. Even so, the songs are very well written and arranged. The ninth and closing track, fittingly, is titled “Story Told”. The first minute is more or less quiet, but explodes into an anthem out of nowhere and keeps the energy up until the end. The vocals call back to The Who, asking, “Who are you?!” but perhaps miraculously don’t seem ripped off.
Gonzo, while not perfect, is one of those rare albums that manages to sound reminiscent without also sounding too derivative. It calls to mind a variety of artists: Spoon, Stevie Wonder, The Who, a tiny pinch of Nirvana, and so on. It sounds like good times feel, and it seems like the good times are going to keep rolling on for Foxy Shazam if they can keep it up. 7.9 out of 10