Generally positive reviews for Jonathan Rado’s solo effort, “Law & Order.” Questions of consistency are common, but all acknowledge that there’s good stuff to be found. The Wall Street Journal catalogued the many musical influences that can be found throughout the record:
Mr. Rado’s brush with authenticity doesn’t feel like a calculation, but more an expression of his passion for old songs and sounds. His affection for the Kinks’ Mr. Davies seems boundless. Of the Davies composition “Waterloo Sunset,” Mr. Rado said that “there’s never been a better song.” On “Faces,” Mr. Rado does a better-than-fair approximation of the Kinks circa 1967. As if a summary of early-’60s music, “Oh, Suzanna!” morphs from folk into psyche pop. “Dance Away Your Ego” is a slice of mid-’60s instrumental pop, with Mr. Rado playing on a big period organ he found on Craigslist.
Though the disc at times is as loose as a rehearsal tape, Mr. Rado doesn’t suppress his considerable skills as an instrumentalist. On “I Wanna Feel It Now!!!” he invokes the early Jimi Hendrix Experience by playing all the instruments, including the heavy bass and fuzz guitar. The title track has the feel of one of the instrumentals on the Beach Boys’ “Pet Sounds.” Again, Mr. Rado is the sole instrumentalist on the track. His bubbling synths give “Seven Horses” its prog-rock grandeur.
As “Law & Order” unfolds, Mr. Rado emerges as a talented, somewhat bemused artist with a fascination, but not necessarily a reverence, for rock’s ever-distant past. The album delights in its own joyful, skewed spirit.
The Wall Street Journal review also includes an interview with Rado where he discusses the creation process:
“I just sort of compiled 20 or 30 songs that I thought were a good representation of what I do,” he said. “Then I sent them to friends. It was never designed as a solo product. I just wanted to show my friends the stupid stuff I do.”
The tracks his friends received were what appears on “Law & Order,” mostly without additional embellishment. Mr. Rado nearly played all the instruments— Tim Presley of White Fence pitched in on acoustic guitar. Jaclyn Cohen, Mr. Rado’s girlfriend, was his Nancy Sinatra on “Hand in Mine.”
His friends’ responses were mixed. Most said they didn’t like “Hand in Mine,” but said they enjoyed “Looking 4a Girl Like You,” a five-minute blast of screeching, squealing guitar and Mr. Rado’s distorted voice.
“It’s supposed to be funny,” he said of “Girl.” “It started out as this Ennio Morricone song, but it kept getting funkier. It turned into a Prince slow jam. Then I started to scream over it. I’m singing in a key I can’t sing in.”
He said the public’s reaction to “Girl” differs from his friends’. “It’s the one song everybody hates. Now I hate my friends.”
No matter what lies ahead in Foxygen’s future, Law & Order suggests that Rado is fully prepared to make Foxygen records on his own. As a singer, he’s not as dynamic as Sam France, whose ability to ape various 60s icons– Jagger, Lennon, and Barrett are his main touchstones– adds extra authenticity to the group’s studious genre exercises. Rado’s vocals, meanwhile, are serviceable though not exactly essential, which might explain why he often buries them in effects (like on the demented late-night soul ballad “Looking 4a Girl Like U”) and abrasive guitar fuzz (on the clanking garage-rocker “I Wood”), or removes them completely (on the swinging Booker T. and the MGs homage “Dance Away Your Ego”).
Rado didn’t set out to make a record as pristine as We Are the 21st Century Ambassadors; Law & Order is a homemade grab-bag of jams and rough-cut gems that sounds like it was hashed out in a matter of days. It’s basically Rado’s version of McCartney, which is one among approximately 83 classic-rock references on Law & Order smothered in the requisite air quotes.
Rado might be derivative, but at least there’s an admirable consistency to his prodigious output. Studying the masters has taught him how to put together catchy songs seemingly at will. The best tracks on Law & Order are frontloaded: The album-opening “Seven Horses” blobs along on a trippy groove that’s surprisingly funky, and “Hand in Mine” is an enjoyable callback to the sexy camp of those old Lee Hazelwood/Nancy Sinatra duets. Things get weirder in the album’s second half– “I Wanna Feel It Now!!!” recalls the thrilling cacophony of Broadway– but the glitchy closer “Pot of Gold” is Rado’s most focused pop song yet. He even indulges in a slick yacht-rock guitar solo– is this a sign that he’s moving on to the 70s, as all 60s heroes must eventually do? Knowing Rado, the wait won’t be long to find out.
It’s funny that Foxygen have become such a hype/backlash lightning rod, given the breezy, retro-tinged nature of their music. Like their concerts, Rado’s solo album is as frustrating as it is infectious. Songs like Seven Horses, Hand In Mine and the shuffling Booker T-evoking instrumental Dance Away Your Ego hit the kind of familiar, nostalgic, winsome notes that would sound at home on a Wes Anderson soundtrack.
But then hissy distorted drones like Looking 4a Girl Like U and I Wanna Feel It Now!!! come along and send you scrambling for the next groove. Fun and charming in places, barely listenable in others.