I’m torn on how to review the new Lonely Island record. On the one hand, as a comedy album, its value depends entirely on whether or not it’s funny, and comedy is a very subjective thing. On the other hand, that doesn’t make for a very good article, and I think it’s interesting to look at what does or doesn’t make comedy work. So bear with me for a second while I think a little harder about these hip-hop funnymen than I probably should.
On my second listen to Turtleneck & Chain, it became apparent that essentially all of the songs here are organized around a common theme: being cool. Almost every track follows the same basic comedic formula — combining a solid club beat with goofy lyrics delivered like a badass (or, if you prefer, like a boss). That dissonance between what a track sounds like and what’s actually being said is where, at the most base level, Lonely Island mines most of their laughs. What that does is allow the three guys in Island (Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone) to pose like gangsters but rap about insecurities — problems with girls, thinking they’re tougher than they are, etc. It’s funny, but one wonders if there’s not some truth behind it.
For instance, it’s very telling that any time the Island guys start speaking cool (in a way that matches their music) something comes along to derail them. That might be their mother barging in the recording studio to offer them something to drink, or getting killed by Rocky Balboa, or having a song interrupted by Michael Bolton singing about how much he loves Pirates of the Caribbean, but it’s going to happen. These guys just can’t catch a break.
I wonder if that mindset doesn’t come at least a little bit from the fact that these three nerdy guys from Berkeley, California are a little bit uncomfortable with being thrown into a national spotlight thanks to Saturday Night Live and their previous musical successes. Surely Samberg must know he’s that show’s most dependable player at this point (how many people only watch SNL for the digital shorts?), but perhaps it’s that feeling that informs what these guys write about.
What I’m talking about is perfectly embodied in Samberg’s character Shy Ronnie. On Turtleneck & Chain he appears in a track with Rihanna in which the two rob a bank. Arguably, Rihanna’s the only celebrity on the record who doesn’t adopt a totally goofy image when performing her song. She plays things pretty straight and tough; the humor in “Ronnie & Clyde” comes from the fact that Rihanna spends her verses pimping Shy Ronnie, who then can’t find the courage to rap loud enough to be heard. That all changes when Rihanna exits the song; all of a sudden, Ronnie finds his voice and comes on more boisterously than his famous partner. As soon as Rihanna returns, though, Ronnie’s back to being quiet. In a way, might that not reflect how Samberg and friends feel when thrust alongside showbiz giants week after week on SNL?
I’m not saying Turtleneck & Chain is a deeply personal record or anything (it’s not), but most if not all great comedy has an element of truth, right? Well, I’d guess that the truth behind the guys in Lonely Island is they kind of don’t believe how cool they are, so they think they have to keep trying really hard. Of course in reality they’re cooler than most of us; anyone who can get Justin Timberlake to sing about fucking your mom is clearly a superior human being.
And if you don’t believe any of that, well, this album is funny as shit.
Turtleneck & Chain tracklist:
01. We’re Back!
03. I Just Had Sex (ft. Akon)
04. Jack Sparrow (ft. Michael Bolton)
05. Attracted to Us (ft. Beck)
07. My Mic
08. Turtleneck & Chain (ft. Snoop Dogg)
09. Shy Ronnie 2: Ronnie & Clyde (ft. Rihanna)
10. Trouble on Dookie Island
11. Falcor vs. Atreyu
12. Motherlover (ft. Justin Timberlake)
13. The Creep (ft. Nicki Minaj & John Waters)
14. Watch Me Do Me
15. Threw It On the Ground
17. After Party (ft. Santigold)
18. No Homo
19. No Homo outro
My Best of 2012 Playlist by Eric Garneau
After being inspired by some friends, for the past few years I’ve been really into documenting my musical exploration with year-end mixes. I realize this is not a particularly novel thing to do, but hey, who has original ideas any more? Anyway, this has gotten even easier to do thanks to new technology like Spotify. read more