Fleet Foxes Why They Will Never Be As Big As American

Written by Alan McGee
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Can people be blinded by hype into accepting absolute garbage into the rock'n'roll canon? I refer to a dispute I had recently over the meteoric rise of Fleet Foxes. A friend of mine believed that to truly judge whether an album is a "classic" you have to wait at least a year for the hype to clear. For her, Fleet Foxes have failed the test because their self-titled debut is a folk version of Coldplay.

I disagree. For me, their DIY basement-recorded debut is a modern classic. Some acts lose their lustre after the initial hype subsides, but Fleet Foxes retain an enduring freshness in their baroque pop (nearly a year later). The songs are drenched in Beach Boys harmonies, Zombies pop craft and Laurel Canyon-style songwriting.

Fleet Foxes were propelled to success by word of mouth; no appearances on The X Factor, no shilling out to corporate brands, and no Q Magazine covers. I respect Robin Pecknold's decision to remain enigmatic (he's clearly studied the myth-making tactics of Jack White and Bob Dylan). Pecknold has never sold out for mass-market appeal. Fleet Foxes were hyped because they deserved it.

It was at that point that my friend dropped a bombshell: "Fleet Foxes will never be as good as America." I have to agree. Fleet Foxes have not yet written an anthem to match A Horse With No Name. And yet the AM radio-friendly rock of America still hasn't received the credit it deserves for informing 1970s musical culture.

America and Fleet Foxes share musical and stylistic similarities, but unlike the latter, America have never received critical acclaim. Why? Maybe they sounded too much like contemporaries Crosby, Stills and Nash (three-part harmonies and acoustic guitars) to be deemed acceptable by the rock'n'roll cognoscenti of the time. Fortunately, Fleet Foxes shared no cultural albatross and grew out of the nu-folk scene that produced Devendra Banhart and Joanna Newsom. Though hated by "serious" musical listeners, America's hit songs are fantastic. Their debut album wasn't successful at first – it took the single A Horse With No Name to bring them the popularity they so richly deserved. America needed the singles to get noticed.

Their follow-up album and relocation to Los Angeles from England brought another classic single: Ventura Highway. When America's ambitious, self-produced, yacht-rock album, Hat Trick, turned out to be a flop, the band asked George Martin to produce their fourth record, Holiday, from which a stream of top 10 hits flowed. Martin retained the soft-pop of Hat Trick, but incorporated the acoustic and harmonic templates that made America successful in the first place. And in 1975, they recorded the stone-cold classic Sister Golden Hair.

Unfortunately, America's reign ended in the 80s: members left to become Christians, recorded awkward synth projects and soundtracks to Jimmy Webb movies about Unicorns. They had one more great pop single, You Can Do Magic, in 1982, but after that? Nothing. No big hits. In 2007, they tried to re-establish themselves as critical favourites with their classic, textbook indie comeback of Here and Now (featuring My Morning Jacket and Ryan Adams) ... but even that got slammed.

Will Fleet Foxes be as big as America? No. Not until they write radio-friendly hit singles. But then Fleet Foxes are more about the music-as-album experience, and less the big-hit-song experience. What is your favourite America album? You'd be hard pressed to get an answer. But ask someone what their favourite America single is and you just know you've got an easy answer.

© Words – Alan McGee (Original article appeared in The Guardian – Used by Kind permission)

Read 4379 times Last modified on Saturday, 10 April 2021 14:33
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