There’s little to nothing oxymoronic about The Foxymorons themselves: while the term “foxy morons” might apply to any number of Los Angeles County’s denizens, marginally foxy and dubiously moronic Texans David Dewese and Jerry James constitute the matter at hand. Hesitation Eyes, The Foxymorons’ third L.P. since their inception in 1994, takes a stylistic swerve from Beulah-esque indie pop to court Alt Country, with a largely successful outcome. Like aforementioned hapless bimbos cum fashion victims, The Foxymorons—swathed in earnestness like Queen Latifah bursting sweetly from an undersized knit poncho—can’t be blamed for taking the road most traveled. They’re trying to break your heart, and how! Which makes you wonder: Who needs Wilco-imitators when Jeff Tweedy’s far from croaking?
The answer is nobody: Nobody needs Wilco-soundalikes while the real deal’s alive and kicking, but The Foxymorons are exempt from this categorization, and Hesitation Eyes turns out to be a nearly seamless pop/rock pastiche that’s more than just a Wilco rip-off. See, for instance, the album’s first track, “Harvard Hands,” in which James echoes Costello “Darling, know my aim is true,” and again in “Pistol by Your Side,” when he rips off the Beach Boys (“God only knows what I know”). While it’s generally wise to refrain from giving nods to bands you’re clearly ripping off, the Foxymorons are in the clear. This isn’t to say their influences aren’t as plain as the noses on their faces; if neither Dewese nor James had ever heard a Pavement record, the Foxymorons would probably sound like Nickelback spawn, and Dewese’s voice might sound more like that guy who fronts Five For Fighting and less like Alex Chilton with a pot over his head (which is, frankly, kind of awesome; James’ pipes are similarly endearing).
If Hesitation Eyes were anything but a pop record (for the sake of argument, let’s ignore that wholly irritating sound of almost-silence in “Are you tired?” in which The Foxymorons momentarily confuse themselves with Talk Talk), lyrics like, “The algebra is just too much / It won’t add up to you and me” (which, by the way, is most certainly lifted from a 2Gether song, “U + Me = US (Calculus),” inadvertently or not) would be utterly unforgivable. “Terror on the Tarmac,” which plays like a “Nothing’severgonnastandinmyway (Again)” sans hand claps before devolving into Big Star-style guitars, has Dewese singing about falling for the “continental drifter,” “kamikaze kisser,” crazy girl he wants to take home. The lovelorn “This Heart of Mine” and “I’m Still in Love” are pardoned accordingly. Nothing on “Hesitation Eyes” hasn’t been said before, but that’s pop for you—neat, gift-wrapped little choruses that, done properly, lodge themselves in your head like, uh, those weird bug things in The Matrix. In the same way 70% of The Arcade Fire’s repertoire dissolves into disco, the Foxymorons’ foolproof formula is the catchiest of electric guitars picking up the slack of songs that otherwise drone, as is the case of “This Heart of Mine,” as well as “Harvard Hands” and “Lazy Librarian’s Son,” another of the album’s gems.
The verdict is this: the Foxymorons prove their influences varied and well-digested (and their musical regurgitation convincingly original); in danger of spewing the stuff of high school literary magazines, the Foxymorons also strike a credible balance between lover and cynic—as equally able to melt cold critical hearts as freeze over warm gooey ones. On “Pistol by Your Side,” James sings about the radio clicking on, playing “the most appropriate song,” and that’s exactly it: If The Foxymorons can’t put into words what you’re feeling pre-breakup (“Are you tired of me?”), post-breakup (“I love you though I’m second best” and “I’ve lied so you’d think it’s better over here”), pre- (“I’ve tried to tell you how I feel—I’m still in love, do you love me too?”) and post-recovery (“Just because I held you once/Doesn’t mean I still love you”), that’s not a heart—it’s a rock pumping concrete through your PVC-pipe arteries. Is it trite? Whatever. What part of love isn’t? Jealous ex-es, kisses in Wal-Mart parking lots, “sweet dreams and magazines.” In the end, Hesitation Eyes is the aural equivalent of the “Lazy Librarian’s Son,” who—sings Dewese—“was never very good with the girls / But could sell a nun a string of pearls.” I’m sold, anyway.