Bold, theatrical and, at times, melodramatic, “Hang” is the grandiose fifth album by indie-rock duo Foxygen. At just over 30 minutes, the album is a whirlwind journey, cycling between excessive, operatic, string-laden arrangements and familiar pop tunes that pay a Broadway-infused homage to the theatrical excess of ‘70’s glam rock that feels both histrionic and overdone.
“Hang” is a departure from Foxygen’s 2014 Todd Rundgren-influenced “…And Star Power,” instead featuring a collaboration with Steven Drozd of The Flaming Lips and a 40-piece orchestra. The result is an album that sees lead singer Sam France maintain his trademark vocal dynamic — an approach similar to David Bowie and Lou Reed — while instrumentalist Jonathan Rado focuses on capturing the elaborate sound of Elton John and Billy Joel.
The album’s opening track, “Follow the Leader,” recalls the group’s fervent adoration of Rundgren, with an introduction hauntingly similar to his immortal 1972 hit “I Saw the Light.” Although the track does not chart new territory for the band, its gentle introduction of brass and orchestral elements eases the listener into an instrument-heavy aesthetic that becomes a characteristic theme throughout the album.
Replete with backing vocals, the first section of “Avalon” feels as if it was pulled from a Broadway musical. An instrumental interlude morphs the song into an up-tempo jazz vamp before returning to a sing-along finale. The third track, “Mrs. Adams,” begins with the Billy Joel-esque “Here I am / In this Hollywood bar / Press my face against the glass /Can’t you see I’m making reservations?” before turning decidedly dark, with the morbid line “What you doing now with your gun in your mouth?”
The album begins its descent into absurdity with “America,” a track with an orchestral arrangement, lyrical theme and vocal approach that drifts beyond homage and into the realm of parody. Atop a whimsical wash of strings, France croons “America” in a somewhat choked tone as the track, at times, mirrors Supertramp’s “Breakfast in America,” with mixed results. Although the melody feels familiar, the lyrics “If you’re already there / Then you’re already dead / If you’re living in America / Our heroes are bred / They just got nothing to lose / Because they’re all living in America” adopt an apathetic tone toward the future of America — ironic for an album released concurrently with the inauguration of President Donald Trump on Jan. 20.
“On Lankershim” is without a doubt the album’s climax, employing bygone songwriting conventions to great effect. With vocals that feel pure and unadulterated by an attempt to deliver an over-the-top Broadway performance, France’s heartfelt message of love and hope will hit home for listeners.
This song, moreso than any other on the album, feels like honest representation rather than overdone imitation. Although its intro feels like Elton John’s “Tiny Dancer,” the track’s vocal harmony channels the best moments of The Eagles, and its final verse could just as easily have been recorded by David Bowie.
Musically, the addition of a saxophone draws upon an essential, though often forgotten, aspect of the classic rock vocabulary. More than any one feature, the track’s ability to unify theme, tone and instrumentation is singular among the album’s eight songs.
The album’s close is not nearly as strong as its start. On “Trauma,” a track on which France sings the word “trauma” 23 times before devolving into a serenade that makes mention of flamingos, it feels as if the group ran out of material. Although the closing track “Rise Up” features a high-energy arrangement accented by heavily distorted guitar, it still comes across as a lackluster finale — a drift into oblivion rather than an exclamation point. The track’s energy is captured neither in its production nor in its vocals, resulting in a tune that feels like music playing in an empty room rather than to a standing ovation.
What is most refreshing about the album is its diverse array of influences. It incorporates elements that could be heard on a “Greatest Hits of the 1970s” album, alongside snippets more at home in a dusty thrift store bargain bin than in a modern, alt-rock album. Unfortunately, the album takes this pastiche too far, feeling bloated with unnecessary interludes between unoriginal and cliche lyrics.
Despite its brief length, the album somehow manages to be overwhelming. Foxygen’s departure from its successful formula of the past — fuzz-cloaked psychedelia — succeeds in creating an album whose complexity and scope is often easier to acknowledge than to enjoy, an album acting as a spectacle whose influence fails to extend beyond its exhibit.