Falling Really in Love

Andrew W.K., The Wolf

In a recent entry about the death of Wesley Willis, I said that Andrew W.K. was in on the joke that is Andrew W.K. After spending some time with his new record, The Wolf, I hereby dub myself an idiot.

Of course, I probably should have done some research before I made my blanket pronouncement about Monsieur W.K. ( Wilkes-Krier). If I had, I would have run across items such as this useful if poorly edited interview discussing the I Get Wet album:

Ironic? You tell me what is ironic about it? In a world of so much pessimism okay, even confusion, doubt, there is so much we have already seen, right, that we can’t believe that something someone is doing can be genuine! Oh yeah! They have to tone it down and hold it in and say it was just a joke. When you say something is just a joke it absolves you of all responsibility of being wrong. I worked really hard on this record. If someone says “that’s sucks.” [sic] Then I say “Oh yeah, no big deal, I didn’t really work on it that hard anyway.” It’s just a joke. Fuck that! I am giving it all I have and being completely one hundred thousand percent committed to something.

This smashes my theory, and it also shows that Andrew W.K. is smart enough to understand not only irony but how it is used by artists as a defense mechanism against criticism. That’s more than you can say about most rock stars.

How then, does one explain the music of Andrew W.K.? This is the guy who shows an unhealthy lyrical obsession with partying, rarely diverged from a single song structure on I Get Wet, and assembles thick layers of hair-metal guitars, shouted vocals, and bright keyboards and calls it texture. No, it’s a symphony made of cheese and clichés. The lead track on The Wolf is called “Victory Strikes Again,” as if victory is like a hurricane, an outside force over which we have no control. His rhymes are of the grade-school variety (e.g., free/see/be on “Tear It Up”), and his vocabulary on record suggests brain damage (specifically, American Movie’s Mike Schank). “Party Hard” is great by itself, but I Get Wet is basically that track and 11 inferior versions of it. The sameness makes the record palatable only in small doses; a few songs are enough to spur “Yeah, I get it.” (Or, with my wife, “Turn that shit off!”)

Of course, I wouldn’t be spending this much time with Andrew W.K. if something didn’t draw me to him. True confessions: I bought I Get Wet after seeing Andrew on Saturday Night Live (I’m more ashamed of admitting to watching SNL every now and again), and I bought The Wolf the week it came out. Mock me at your leisure.

I find something tremendously appealing about Andrew W.K., and fortunately The Wolf features what I’d call artistic progress. There’s more variety, the songs are distinct, it tries to say new things in fresh ways, and there’s a clever, playful quality to the production that matches Andrew W.K.’s infectious energy. I Get Wet was an important first step, establishing the Andrew W.K. philosophy (“We do what we like and we like what we do”) and the basic M.O. The Wolf is a step forward, an expansion.

This is conceivably a record you might want to listen to beyond its novelty value, and it would make Spinal Tap proud. I mean that as a compliment: The best Spinal Tap, even though it’s basically a joke, gets big things right — meaty hooks, catchy choruses, decent musicianship, an idiosyncratic style and texture. The mangled language and the humor (intended or otherwise) are gravy.

To choose a comparison that sounds a little less derisive, The Wolf feels a lot like Weezer without the angst and above-it-all irony. It’s unrepentant pop music through a hair-metal filter.

Certain things about The Wolf are downright bold. “Make Sex,” for example, is less than a minute long, and it’s as direct as direct can be. It’s also unadorned, with vocals and percussion and nothing else — a minimalist’s dream. “Long Live the Party,” on the other hand, is expansive beyond belief, with keyboard solos to make Rick Wakeman proud, lyrical content ranging from partying to pride to having something to believe in. The previously dissed “Tear It Up” has a thunderous, unexpected guitar segue that gets layered with keys and vocals to an effective, frothing climax.

The album retains the man-child’s juvenility — call it “youthful exuberance” if you’d like — but it’s earnest, fun, and well-made, and not nearly as guilty a pleasure as I Get Wet. It might not be Art, but Andrew W.K. writes his own songs, produces his own records, and generally gives it a hundred thousand percent. There isn’t a cynical bone in his body, and he seems to enjoy what he does. That’s a lot more than you can say for the over-produced, over-choreographed bubblegum shit that passes for pop music these days.

As Andrew himself sings, I am falling really in love. I shan’t apologize.

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