We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic
, January 23rd, 2013 05:50
When Smash Hits interviewed Mick Jagger in February 1985, the hugely successful pop mag headlined the article thus: "Mick Jagger: If You Don't Know Who This Bloke Is, Ask Your Parents…" The subhead continues, "But isn't he over the hill? And does he know anything about modern music? And what's he like anyway?"
It seems inconceivable now that any teenager would be anything but fully informed as to exactly who Mick Jagger and the Rolling Stones are. In recent years, the narrative that the 60s were the Triumph And Pinnacle Of Western Musical Invention has been rammed down our throats by the baby boomers who stole our jobs and our houses. Still the great arse of that decade, bloated by endlessly repeated yarn and myth, suffocates us all.
Riding in under the radar down the curve of its buttock are 100% retro duo Foxygen, who originate from LA, are inspired by The Rolling Stones to the point of being copyists and have appalling taste in trousers. This, their second album, is bizarrely garnering positive notices on both sides of the Atlantic despite sounding like a demo tape for a band who'd have been considered too risible to make it past the auditions for Austin Powers' Ming Tea. So where does one start with this shower? There's the weak non-sequitur of the name, for starters. Have Foxygen ever smelt a fox, let alone tried to breathe one in? Reynard stinks, hence his use in entertaining aristocrats in red coats and their canine friends over the years. Then there's the album title, We Are The 21st Century Ambassadors Of Peace & Magic, which is a big fat lie given that the closest this has come to anything post-1970 is the fact that I am listening to it on the modern technological wonder that is Spotify.
There's certainly scant magic here. 'No Destruction' remarkably manages to be some kind of East Coast vs West Coast hipster in-joke - "there's no need to be an asshole/you're not in Brooklyn any more" - via a badly phoned-in Dylan impersonation. It also sees the first of many Ladybird Book Of The 60s lyrical clunkers: "The doors of consciousness aren't open any more," they mewl, kindly proving their own point.
'On Blue Mountain' suggests the kind of infantile escapism that currently characterises so much American indie music, dreaming of "living in a sunset.... like children on a swingset". The Jagger pastiche here sounds more like an upset teenager asking for forgiveness after a whitey puke on his girlfriend's parents' rug than the Stones singer's preposterous and libidinous howl, while the backing vocals screech like South Park characters in full taunt. 'San Francisco' wheels out cliche after cliche. I mean, have they ever been to the bit of that contradictory and beautiful city "where the forest meets the bridge"? I have: there's a military cemetery stuffed with the fallen of America's wars, the stinking fumes of Interstate 101, WWII bunkers where junkies go to shoot up, and a handy view of suicides windmilling down from the Golden Gate. Surely plenty of grist to the creative mill, yet sadly all Foxygen can muster is a fiddly-ree refrain and the lyric "I left my love in San Francisco / That's OK, I was bored anyway". How many times in pop have people left things in San Francisco? This is just getting careless.
Carelessness (and laziness, and indulgence, and smugness) are recurring motifs here. 'Oh Yeah' (says a lot) rattles hazily through lyrical drivel worth repeating largely in full: "it's a bummer in the summertime / everyone's going to have a real good time / arms and legs / bacon and eggs / you can rearrange your mind / if it makes you feel fine / you can chew on gum / if it makes you have fun..." Jivens.
When the chorus to 'Shuggie' (yes, 'Shuggie') runs "if you believe in yourself you can free your soul", the hippy platitude might be more convincingly delivered by a hard-nosed derivatives trader, hardly helped by the following flute line that's as wet as a baby's banana fart. There's nearly a redeeming moment on final track 'Oh No', where a hint of Grandaddy's pyschedelia comes in under a strange electronic beeping that might be a sonar ping or hospital heart monitor... this is undone, unsurprisingly, with a hokey piano closer that sounds like a Butlins Redcoat doing his 'John Lennon solo' turn at the staff Christmas party. This isn't saying that Foxygen are inevitably diabolical merely through the sum of their influences. Far from it - we'd point you in the direction of 1967 hit 'Pretty Ballerina' by The Left Banke as an example of just how good naive and innocent, sun-kissed pop of the period could be. Sadly, Foxygen have brought with them into the 21st century the instrumentation and aesthetic, but none of the charm.
For all you dedicated students of the 60s era, this new-build fossil that's neither of relevance to now nor even a decent tribute to the era that inspired it must be doubly aggravating. It is possible, just about, to make an argument for retro-derived music that attempts to valiantly recapture the spirit of a time past, even if precious little is done to update it sonically. But Foxygen seek neither transcendence, nor a utopian way of living in balance with all humanity... not even a bonk in a bush with a girl with breasts bare under paisley cotton. No, all Foxygen want their music to bring them is a free blue rucksack:
Back in the day Foxygen would surely have been laughed out of town as frauds and fakers who've been caught buying hippy wigs in Woolworths, man. When Foxygen fly in to play London, you can bet they take a cab to Carnaby Street.