Flight of the Conchords
I Told You I Was Freaky
The concept of musical comedy implies some rather high expectations. Most people are neither very funny nor particularly able to write a song others would consider listenable, so to combine both skills into one great creative feat is pretty impressive. Best case scenario: Genuinely amusing lyrics are backed up by good music. This is why “The Lonely Island” stuff usually works, because the bridge of “Jizz in My Pants” is catchy enough that you can find yourself humming it unaware, thoughts blissfully unfocused on the inherent humor of premature ejaculation. Worst case scenario: The music is lazy, slapped together to provide a platform for the jokes, which aren’t even all that clever. For most of Flight of the Conchords’ I Told You I Was Freaky, this is the multi-layered failure we are dealing with.
I understand that Flight of the Conchords is a show on HBO, and that a lot of people like it, but I think that if you are going to release a soundtrack, it should be able to stand on its own. Judging from this soundtrack, Flight of the Conchords is a TV show based on the premises that no music has been written since 2006 and that there is nothing more amusing than human male anatomy.
One of the album’s most direct and obvious parodies is “Sugalumps,” a boy version of “My Humps,” predicated on the idea that balls are significantly more hilarious than boobs. “My Humps” is a perfectly ridiculous pop confection that has no need for a comedian’s touch. Even “Sugalumps” does a decent job of capturing that generic sexy club hip-hop thing, complete with Timberlakeian falsetto, but ultimately it’s a joke the original song made much better…four years ago.
But in the grand scheme of musicians who should not be parodied, few can touch the living punch line that is R. Kelly. If you want to make a “comedic” version of a pop song, you had better make sure that yours is funnier than the “serious” original, and the Conchords are just not up to the task of topping “Trapped in the Closet.” “We’re Both in Love with a Sexy Lady” rips off the weird too-many-words-too-little-melody, speaking style and the stunningly contrived plot of 2006’s gloriously terrible R. Kelly and Usher duet “Same Girl.” Both songs feature a vaguely musical conversation between two friends who suddenly come to realize that they are interested in the same woman, and even though both songs suck, the original wins out.
But I Told You I Was Freaky does not stick to weakly-crafted white boy hip-hop; it also enjoys doing a minimally more impressive job of referencing earlier musical genres. “Fashion Is Danger,” is an homage to sleazy ’80s synth-pop, opening with a distinctly “Relax” meets “Sweet Dreams” feel before collapsing into an “I’m Too Sexy” style list of situations in which one could be attractive. This song is actually an effective parody: The thumping electronic background is catchy, and lyrics feature the truly brilliant passage: “President Reagan/ Thatcher, Thatcher/ jazzercise, lip gloss.”
And then there is the almost transcendently befuddling “Petrov, Yelyena, and Me,” a genre-defying layering of jaunty Russian-accented vocals over what sounds like French circus music. It is delightfully unclear which artist or era they may be attempting to reference, and once the term “arm fish” appears in the lyrics, it’s fairly clear that this is just the Conchords fucking around, writing something they think is funny without worrying about capturing the memorable features of another musician’s work. Perhaps the band would be better off taking this approach permanently. At the very least, I would never have to hear a New Zealander rap about casserole ever, ever again.
Ghostdini: Wizard of Poetry
From his early stocking-donning days in the slums of Shaolin to his veloured and iced out swagger today, Ghostface Killah has always been one of the Wu Tang Clan’s most distinguished members. His high-pitched voice, fast, abrupt spit, and stream of consciousness lyrics give him a flow like none other in hip-hop. His unique style and his uncanny ability to select the best beats to complement his flow have made him the Clan’s most consistent member. Unlike other clan members, Ghost has managed to release instant classics (Ironman in 1996 and Supreme Clientele in 2000), while continuing to put out other high-quality albums that simply went under the radar due to lack of commercial appeal. Unfortunately, however, his latest effort, Ghostdini: The Wizard of Poetry in Emerald City fits neither of these molds. It stands out as one of Ghost’s most lackluster releases yet.
Though not a standout work, the album does feature lyricism of relatively high caliber. Yet no MC can carry an album merely with good lyricism; the production must match the flow. It seems that much like Lil Wayne’s ill-fated foray into rock—have you listened to the atrocity that is “Prom Queen”?—Ghost’s desire to pursue an R&B-inspired album of love songs stretched his artistic capabilities beyond a palatable limit. It’s not that he hasn’t executed the genre well in the past, but he was at his best when he merely dabbled in love. “All That I Got Is You” with Mary J. Blige, for example, was a great vivid exploration of the struggles of growing up poor. But it worked well as a part in the context of the album’s larger portrayal of Ghostface the street hustler. Within the confines of the love concept album, Ghost seems to struggle for memorable variation.
Perhaps the production and the collaboration are a large part of the problem. The R&B just isn’t good. The biggest name on the album is John Legend, and the two artists lack chemistry. “Let’s Stop Playin” sounds like a John Legend chorus interspersed with Ghostface freestyles. The album’s featured singers simply aren’t proficient enough to musically interact with the verses. Collaboration ought to produce a whole greater than the sum of its parts. Moreover, the production is particularly uninteresting and sounds like mediocre mainstream R&B. The banality of the production and singing simply overpowers and displaces Ghost’s flow rather than complementing it.
Yet this not to say that there aren’t some tracks on here for hardcore Ghost fans. “Stapleton Sex,” for example, can only be described as hard and wet. It is a highly explicit evocation of sexuality in which the sounds of sex play a major role in the production. Ghost is uncompromising in his lyrics here as well, so much so that I couldn’t find a publishable line. “Guest House” is a simply hilarious track reminiscent of Raekwon’s “Gihad” where Ghost tells a story of a man coming home to find his wife having an affair with the cable guy (played by Fabolous).
The album suffers from a fatal flaw in concept. Ghost just simply isn’t cut out to make an entire album about love that can stand with his body of work. His element is really in the realm of telling street tales over gritty beats. I’m all for artistic exploration, but hearing Ghost sound more and more like your average rapper is something I could do without.
Los Lobos Goes Disney
Los Lobos started off small in East L.A., an adolescent garage band trying to get gigs. They played weddings, bars, and quinceñeras, and were largely supported by Mexican Americans from their neighborhood. Their first independent EP, released in the late ’70s, was successful enough to earn them a deal with Slash Records. Eventually, an audience became privy to the genius of their blend of ’80s rock revival and Tex-Mex, and The Lobos launched a series of sometimes successful albums—and, more importantly, a smash-hit remake of the booty-shaking tune “La Bamba.” Los Lobos have often struggled to keep momentum up since their conception over 30 years ago, but the band and their Latin flavor have come a long way since winning three Grammys (1983, 1989, and 1995). Their career has at last culminated in the glorious zenith of every great artist’s career: a Disney album. Thank you, Los Lobos. It’s about fucking time.
As I’m sure you’re aware, East L.A. has deep-rooted ties to the plight of the average Disney character, so it is no surprise that Los Lobos deliver Los Lobos Goes Disney with unwavering sincerity. There’s something sublimely fitting about their Chicano rock version of “Bella Notte” from Lady and the Tramp.
Most washed-out pop stars quickly discover that Disney songs cannot suck no matter what you do to them (Avril, you need to get on that ASAP). Los Lobos take full creative freedom with the coloring book that is a Disney album. They color the sky dark blue instead of light blue, and Simba’s mane with a very edgy Razzle Dazzle Red. Of course, they do not color outside the lines, because they are humbly aware that after 35 years of music-making, originality is out of the question. Save that for the veterans like Smashmouth and Raven Simone.
Still, the tracklist is a refreshing break from the clichéd patterns of most Disney albums; they cover a Toy Story song that actually isn’t the saccharine and obnoxious “You’ve Got a Friend in Me”, but instead “I Will Go Sailing No More,” the somber one about Buzz not being able to fly.
To give you an idea of the kind of creativity that went into making this album, the track “Heigh Ho” from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves is sung in Spanish. Recall that in its original form, it was sung in English. Taking a song that’s traditional, translating it into your native language, and then singing it: Damn, Lobos—you’re on fire.
Even better, Los Lobos have included a glittering rendition of “The Tiki, Tiki, Tiki Room.” This song used to be slow and dull, but Mexican guitar riffs were just the spice it needed to finally be spunky and upbeat.
Truthfully, going Disney might be the jump-start Los Lobos needed to fuel ticket sales for their upcoming tour (which launched Tues., Oct. 13 in the bustling city of Fresno—there was just enough space among the cows and tumbleweeds to accommodate Los Lobos’ large Central Valley, California following). The band has said that although Los Lobos Goes Disney is a kid’s album, they will incorporate some songs from the album into their set. At last, Los Lobos: You’re old. You’re tired. You’re overplayed. It is now your time to become a family band.