The occasionally updated and even more occasionally entertaining racial comedy blog Stuff White People Like considers “musical comedy”, that is, comedy set to music, to be something that only White Anglo-Saxon Protestant people of today find entertaining. Sure about 80-90% of rap music is comedy-based and Korean music IS comedy, but you know the guy’s got a book, so that kind of gives him license to say whatever he wants on a blog.
Indeed, a lot of the humor of the HBO show from which this album is derived is an age-old formula but has been a very popular and possibly over-used device in “indie” comedy films, and that is extreme awkwardness. The first “big deal” in comedy to use this effect that I noticed to use this device as every joke was Napoleon Dynamite, which is a comedy that blends absurd (but often remarkably close to true) situations/events with characters that forever reconcile their awkward personalities with a misplaced sense of confidence. Correctly done, it wins every time (incorrectly done, and you’ve got Nacho Libre*), and Flight Of The Conchords is the best example yet of this humor, because the fact that we, as Americans, know so precious little about other countries, an endless myriad of jokes can be made about New Zealand culture (and their rivalry with the much larger but dangerous continent of Australia), and we’ll be laughing away at the awkwardness while simultaneously looking up Wikipedia to see if the joke would hit home with a native New Zealander, since we’re planning to study abroad in New Zealand anyway (see? it’s remarkably easy to write like the Stuff White People Like Guy).
Run-on sentences aside, I resisted watching Flight Of The Conchords purely on the type of people who were telling me that it’s the most brilliant show in the universe. Thick-rimmed glasses, beards, tight vintage clothing, and unbearably hip short-movement body language… oh yes, indie fans were telling me about how top-notch this show was. I could not help but be on my guard, as I have followed “indie” recommendations before and it has always lead me to the worst music, worst films, and worst anything of anything and everything because holy crap what is wrong with people?! Whew, anyway when Flight Of The Conchords came out with a CD I decided to finally check what this show is about (don’t know why it came down to that). I picked up the DVD series on sale, the album, and The Distant Future EP, since the latter was only $4.
I did the wise thing, and that was to save listening to the album until I had watched the entire series. Sure enough, I put the DVD into my crappy computer and watched one episode… then another…
Initially, I was not impressed. The comedy was exactly what I expected, subtle, rife with irony, and irrepressibly awkward, and most of the characters in the show looked and talked like the very indie cartoon characters that were recommending the show in the first place. However, each episode had 2 songs in it, and something really clicked with me in those songs. I dreaded that I had wasted my money on the DVD, but at least I knew the CD was going to be all right.
Then I saw another episode, specifically the “Mugged” episode, and something clicked inside, maybe it was the rap “Hiphopopotamus Vs. Rhymenocerus“, and the plot revolving betrayal and friendship and Marvin Gaye inspired inspirational music with lyrics like:
They’re turning kids into slaves just to make cheaper sneakers
But what’s the real cost? ‘Cause the sneakers don’t seem that much cheaper
Why we still payin’ so much for sneakers when you got them made by little slave kids? What are your overheads?
And suddenly every episode was solid gold, because I guess I had forgotten that, despite its popularity, I loved Napoleon Dynamite, I loved Eagle Vs. Shark (another “indie” comedy also starring Jermaine Clement), and indeed Flight Of The Conchords is the best of them all. So I guess the lesson here is, just because you’re clever enough to predict when something’s going to be funny doesn’t mean you can’t also laugh at it.
So I watched every episode, re-watched them, found even MORE to love, and then never really watched them again, that is, until I finish with this writeup and then I’m going to totally check out an episode or two.
Then it was time to listen to the album. If I were really one to “review” things I would say that you, too, should probably check out the show before you really listen to the music on its own, because a lot of the music is centered around what was written into the shows, though a few songs were written before the show and thus stand on their own quite nicely.
The first track, “Foux Du Fafa“, based around the joke that people who don’t really know how to speak French LOVE to speak French (please try to ignore that this blog is called “Album Du Jour” while you think of that), and is set to a very jazzy “French” sounding tune. The song’s largely visual, but the fake conversations work in any context, and if you have even a rudimentary understanding of French, you’ll get every joke.
“Inner City Pressure” is a song I didn’t really dig at first, but now it’s one of my favorites, mainly because it’s pure absurdity:
You don’t know where you’re going, you cross the street
You don’t know why you did, you walk back across the street
And it’s about being poor, which I can relate to believe you me.
Then we have the afore-mentioned “Hiphopopotamus Vs. Rhymenocerous” which should absolutely be watched/listened to without the context of the show, because A. it predates the show and is hilarious just for being a rap song, and B. within the show’s context the song is really awkwardly shoved in and it actually diminishes the effect to have it set up by the show.
The concept of absurd lyrics within a very specific type of song idea is revisited for “Think About It”, and I love the gags in the song, but the song itself is in a style I just can’t get behind, so I guess I’m undecided as to whether I really like the song or just like to think about how funny it is.
“Motha’uckas” is basically a rap song that contains a lot of self-censorship (as you can tell by the title), and in one part is based around the episode where Jermaine and Brett, despite being white, are victims of racism. The song’s ok, but the novelty is spread extremely thin, so it may only work as possibly the only instance of “hard core” rapping done on fixed-gear bicycles.
“Ladies Of The World” is another song that, musically, I am not much into, but the song seems to stem from an awkwardness with ladies that translates very well into over-confidence with them, in song. I don’t mind telling you that this is the big secret of writing songs about women. The song has a non-episode video on Youtube that’s quite a lot better than the one in the show, mainly for the intro. Also notice how much better the “album” version of the song is than the “show” version, that’s pretty much true for every song.
“The Prince Of Parties” needs no real set-up, it’s supposed to be an acid-based Indian-influenced number ala George Harrison (or, most recently, indie-folk favorite “Iron & Wine”, though that has nothing to do with this song, I am going to have to write up their latest album here soon).
“Leggy Blonde” kind of requires a bit of set-up, and I’m too lazy to give it. You’ll just have to watch the episode!
The next song, “Robots“, kind of renders me incapable of criticizing the band’s humor too much, since I wrote a “hit” song about Robots a couple of years ago. Indeed, Flight Of The Conchord’s song is way better, but both songs were built around the idea of a person singing a celebratory song about robots in case the robots take over (a favorite subject amongst clever people I suppose), and yeah I wrote my song in 2006, but don’t worry, I won’t sue.
The song “Boom” was apparently inspired by the Reggae rapper Shaggy, but knowing nothing of Reggae, I still found the song hilarious. You might too!
Very strangely, despite “Boom” being a very sexual song, “A Kiss Is Not A Contract” is a very anti-sex song. It’s also nowhere near as catchy! It reminds me a great deal of this pro-abstinence skit done on Tim And Eric Awesome Show Great Job! starring David Cross, and that song is way funnier but I guess is against the rules to put on Youtube.
Then we have “The Most Beautiful Girl (In The Room)“, which is in the first episode and is fairly funny. It predates the show considerably, as I understand, and harkens back to humor that goes all the way back to the beginnings of film and vaudeville (in that, I have seen similar jokes on The Three Stooges and Marx Bros.), and that is to compliment someone with a very mundane observation, or a half-hearted compliment. I’m reminded of an infamous line by Groucho Marx, “Why you’re one of the most beautiful women I ever saw, and that’s not saying much for you.”
Then, ending the 4-song streak about women, is the stale lover love song called “Business Time“, which is kind of like acoustic porn music and Jermaine’s excellent “soul” voice. The album version contains entirely different “spoken word” segments, and both are hilarious, so it’s a great song and can be enjoyed entirely without the show.
Finally, we have “Bowie“, which is a pastiche on David Bowie’s music, with the duo each doing a separate Bowie impression. It’s an immensely entertaining song, and my favorite on the album, and I’m not even a David Bowie fan! Better than the song, however, is the episode it’s tied to, where Brett is visited by David Bowie in his dreams (it’s actually Jermaine doing an awkward impression of Bowie), and it’s funky, I can assure you.
Then, with that, a brief revisit to “Foux Du Fafa” brings the album to a close. It’s a brilliant album, really, but only if you’ve seen the episodes and the music segments were your favorite. So, if you, like me, have resisted checking out Flight Of The Conchords because some beardy guy in an English schoolboy cap or fedora (no offense to my good and non-trendy friend Wes who used to wear a fedora, but offense can be taken by the rest of you trendy bastards) told you it was the best thing on Earth, you can at least take my recommendation as coming from a non-hip and completely trend-less lover of comedy, because these guys really are good. Maybe not the best thing on Earth, but at the very least, the 4th best folk parody duo in New Zealand (which is how the band self-deprecatingly refers to themselves).
*Don’t get me wrong, I actually really like Nacho Libre and have probably watched it more than Napoleon Dynamite willingly, but I’m always absolutely alone in doing so.