Swaying as hard as an old willow battered by hurricane-force winds, it doesn’t take much more than a cursory listening session with the track “Fishy” to get excited about the tonal pleasures and indulgently melodic elements Neal Fox is working with in his latest album, Unhinged, this fall. However, I would say that if you judged what the contents of this record were off of just one song, you really don’t know what you’re missing — nor who you’re dealing with in the extremely versatile Fox, who has no trouble planting a fat ska groove right in the middle of “Dear Facebook” just as easily as he would smack us with larger than life synthpop melodicism in the title cut from Unhinged.
Creatively speaking, there are no limits in songs like these outside of what this player can do on his own, and let me tell you, he doesn’t have many weaknesses as a studio player. Tracks like “Fishy” and “Insanity Was Throwing a Party” make me curious to know what Neal Fox would sound like live on stage, but I’d be lying if I said they didn’t already give me a pretty good idea here.
“That Rabbit Hole” is a natural closer in this tracklist, but I don’t think it rounds out the theme of the record in a manner that brings the greater narrative at hand any meaningful conclusion — and, to me, this was intentional on the part of Neal Fox. Everything about the song, and for that matter “After the Great Reset” and “You Have the Right” before it, speaks to a gander into the future, as if to say that we’re only scratching the surface of what Fox is looking to accomplish sonically in these rough-cut pop experiments, each of which is a little more endearingly decadent than the one to directly precede it in the tracklist. I hate to call this a progressive outing, but there’s so much continuity to the material (rather than the lyrics) that I feel like there’s no other way to describe the togetherness of the music and what it carries forth as an entire piece as opposed to ten different songs comprising a typical LP.
With a bit of piano pop balladry ala “Truth Matters,” a crushing acoustic melodicism in the Lou Reed-influenced “My Special Girl,” and some old fashioned lyrical charisma in “The Good In Us,” Neal Fox marches his career and the discography he’s built up over the past twenty-five years into the future, and I think the world is ready to hear what that future is going to sound like. Unhinged is deceptively titled in that it feels like the product of deep thought and consideration rather than a sudden breakdown, but where it gets its name right is in its presentation of a songwriter in Neal Fox who could care less about what the current underground trends are. He’s on his own plan in this record, and raising the bar higher than a lot of the posers in this game will ever be able to reach.