After the release of Flight of the Conchords’ The Distant Future, I remember wishing the duo would come out with a full soundtrack album from the first season of their HBO show. The cable series, revolving around two transplanted New Zealander musicians, their inept manager and lone stalking fan, featured two to three songs per episode. So, to make my wish come true would involve a double album, and a bit of overkill in one release. Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, the Kiwis who make up this comedy pairing have very nearly fulfilled my request with their debut self-titled full-length album. Nearly all of the songs (one is simply a coda bookend to the opening track) appeared in the first and, as of this writing, only season of the show. With that in mind, and that being my original wish, the true test would be whether, eight months after the final episode aired, the songs would hold up outside the context of the show and still be funny. As I found myself laughing out loud with my headphones on, to the obvious awkward reaction of those around me, the answer must be an enthusiastic yes.
Of course, not everyone who will end up hearing and / or buying this hilarious CD will have seen the show. Yet, even so, I think we’d be hard pressed to find many indie rock or comedy aficionados who hadn’t either seen one of their heavy rotation YouTube videos, heard one of their songs, or been at least aware of the phenomenon. “It’s Business Time,” the lead single from the debut EP, was played on cubicle computers ad infinitum last year, and became almost as talked about as the Potter Puppet Pals. That song is again represented on the full-length, as are a couple of the live tracks from that release, but every song has been completely rerecorded and polished as only a label with a twenty-year `coolness’ pedigree can provide. Though there are still a few missing tracks that made an appearance on the show, mostly made up of songs that came from their earlier days on the comedy circuit, such as “Pencils in the Wind,” “Albi the Racist Dragon” and “Frodo (Don’t Wear the Ring),” this is still probably the strongest collection of songs from the program.
Some may think it strange to be discussing a comedy duo’s `songs’ as being strong, but it’s absolutely appropriate. Unlike, say “Weird Al” Yankovic, the songs of FOTC are far from straight-up parodies or send-ups. Instead, each song functions as both comedic sketch and meticulous homage. “Inner City Pressure’s” wink and nod to the Pet Shop Boys’ “West End Girls” is apparent, but lines like “So you think maybe you’ll be a prostitute / Just to pay for your lessons, you’re learning the flute / Ladies wouldn’t pay you very much for this / Looks like you’ll never be a concert flautist,” both wickedly mirror the storyline of the original song, and make milk shoot our your nose with laughter. The same holds true for pastiches of Marvin Gaye (“Think About It,” which used to have the cheeky parenthetical subtitle, “Think, Think About It”), Donovan (“The Prince of Parties”), Shabba Ranks (“Boom”) and, perhaps most famously, David Bowie (“Bowie”). The latter finds Clement offering the most dead-on impression of the Thin White Duke I’ve ever heard, while the song references “Space Oddity,” “Jean Genie,” “Changes” and “Let’s Dance.”
However, it’s probably the songs that aren’t as parodic that are the most successful. The epic battle of “Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros (feat. Rhymenoceros and the Hiphopopotamus)” has the most laugh out loud moment on the album. After Bret does his intro rap, Jemaine comes in with “They call me the hiphopopotamus / My lyrics are bottomless….” and is then at a loss for words. Brilliant. The similarly minded “Mutha’uckas” spoofs the entire `clean version’ of the record industry where albums are released with blank spots where profanity used to be. I was recently dismayed to find my new video game, “MLB 08: The Show” cleaned up “Award Tour” by A Tribe Called Quest, a song that is relatively tame in the first place. “Robots,” “The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room)” and “Business Time” are still as funny as their first time you heard them. And, if for some reason you haven’t, there’s no time to waste.
Flight of the Conchords are difficult, at best, to define. They’re far too talented a pair of musicians to be considered mere comedians. They’re also far too funny for the reversed scenario. Also, unlike previous comedy duos, and the even more rare musical comedy duos (Smothers Brothers, Tenacious D and Barnes & Barnes are the only ones that come to mind) they don’t play the usually prescribed roles of `straight man’ and `idiot.’ They sort of play both and neither at the same time. In the show, they’re both clueless, but then they unleash the most incisive wit and skill in their songs. If FOTC reminds me of anything, it’s The Muppet Show. Not only are Bret and Jemaine somewhat in the `cute and cuddly’ category, but there’s also a vaudevillian aspect to the show and their music. Opener “Foux du Fafa” might be considered somewhat an Esquivel or lounge music homage, but it, “Ladies of the World,” “Leggy Blonde” and “A Kiss Is Not a Contract” are very much in the camp of variety show fare. The HBO show, in how it is presented, juxtaposing the fictional lives of `the band’ with various funny musical numbers and the occasional cameo guest star, very much resembles the post-Sesame Street Jim Henson extravaganza. And, after all, doesn’t Bret kind of look like the “Mah Na Mah Na” guy?
The Muppets – The Muppet Show: Music, Mayhem & More!
The Smothers Brothers – It Must Have Been Something I Said!
A cross between SNL skits “Lazy Sunday” & “Dick in a Box”