Foxygen are a band so painted by their influences that, for better or worse, it’s impossible to talk about them without comparisons. The artists they try to emulate are engrained in every bar of every song. Flipping between the elegant monotone of Lou Reed and the howling of Mick Jagger, the California duo own their nostalgia, but their record collection may have failed them on their new release, …And Star Power.
Their debut album, We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors of Peace & Magic, was extremely well-received and set them up rather nicely for a 2013 tour, but the honeymoon ended and the tour soon went awry. Marred by show cancellations through May and June and an on-stage blow up by frontman Sam France at SXSW, Foxygen’s international tour left them facing rumors of a breakup. But they’ve fought through the tumult to release …And Star Power.
The double-album’s pleading lead single and second song on the track list, “How Can You Really,” is a horn-supported return to the red-velvet recording studios of the ‘60s. And they pull it off rather nicely—if you can get past the fact that it’s a carbon copy of Todd Rundgren’s “I Saw the Light.” The following songs on the front end of the album are the other high notes. R&B ballad, “Coulda Been My Love” is sketched over Redbone’s “Come and Get Your Love,” and “Cosmic Vibrations” has the dark vocals and synth strings of Jim Morrison before rising to a fast-paced anthem.
Despite a strong start that promised a double-album worth 82 minutes, Foxygen couldn’t keep it up. Unfortunately, the album descends into madness as the songs go by, tossing you down a psychedelic rabbit hole of clashing melodies and indecipherable lyrics. The nostalgia is cut with clumsy fuzz and flat stretches of record where you’re left listening to a directionless effort. Even calling it effort seems unjustified. As a band that adopts a hipster persona—disapproving of modern rock and making videos that look like Wes Anderson movies—it truly feels like there are times on the album when France and Jonathan Rado seem indifferent to the final product.
In the middle of the album, the three song stretch of “Mattress Warehouse,” “666” and “Flowers” is cotton dry and unoriginal. The rabbit hole goes deeper when …And Star Power becomes a live recording of the band members losing their minds in the studio on “Wally’s Farm” and “Talk.”
The album ends with the tame and surprisingly melodic, “Hang,” which almost seems like an apology and an explanation. Some of the lyrics on the album hint that their hipster hearts are actually just calling out for help. On the Lou Reed-tuned “You & I,” one of the few successes on the album, France cries, “Why doesn’t anybody love me / Why doesn’t anybody care.” There’s a unique hardship placed on young rock ’n’ roll bands today that experience immediate success, especially those who remind us of earlier times. It’s the expectation to bring the genre back, which is an interesting prospect to place on a band that seems to be stuck in the past.