While it’s true that there’s something inherently appealing in the idea of an artist or band not taking itself too seriously, it’s possible for such an attitude to be taken too far. Acts known for their sense of humor too often fall into a bin with other novelty acts, destined never to be taken seriously, no matter how hard they try. There’s a limited shelf life on most humor, and that which evokes a snicker upon the first listen becomes rote and predictable by the second.
Take, for instance, Why Not?!, the latest offering from Alter Ego. At first glance, the album seems tailor-made for maximum enjoyment. The cover art is striking and oddly compelling, the duo’s from Germany (and look, there’s just something inherently appealing about electronic music from Germany), and the song titles are kind of hilarious in a ridiculous sort of way. High hopes are bound to be thrown about when artists give their songs titles like “Fuckingham Palace” and “Exile on Bleep Street”.
US: 23 Oct 2007
UK: 15 Oct 2007
Germany release date: 19 Oct 2007
Upon first listen, the tracks even live up to their titles. Alter Ego’s Jörn Elling Wuttke and Roman Flügel let it all hang out on these 11 tracks, sacrificing subtlety for silliness, sublimity for splat. This is what works for them, and that’s fine. The acid-tinged squelches and scary noises of the title track are engaging, and the song’s just fine except for a bridge full of loops that sound like the “game over” noise on an old ‘80s arcade machine. The aforementioned “Fuckingham Palace” deals in melodies so rudimentary as to border on insulting, though it does come off as sorta catchy. And hell, the minute-and-a-half closer “Welcome to Germany” might be the best thing on the disc, as it approximates something along the lines of a German carnival theme as played by a truly demented little music box. Of course, its charm wears off once you’ve heard it a couple of time.
As much can be said for everything else here, as well. In fact, it’s tough to find the charm in some of these tracks on the first go-‘round. “Jolly Joker” is certainly, well, jolly, but it’s awfully repetitive for most of its duration, not to mention that its primary synth line sounds an awful lot like it’s laughing at you. “Chicken Shag”, a track that should by all means be one of the disc’s standouts given its title, is just utterly silly and really damn annoying.
The truth is, just about everything on Why Not?! will get your ass moving. The beats are serviceable, if not exactly stellar, and the whole disc is well-produced enough to get the maximum bang for your beat. Still, for all of the strangeness and cuteness that it tries so desperately to wow you with, the disc is just too easy to forget. There’s nothing to it, no substance that begs us to keep listening, no feeling for us to grab onto and enjoy. It’s all made on a lark, all of it assembled and adorned with the most garish instrumentation possible. It’s an attention-grabber, but not an attention-holder.
By no means does this review purport to discount the presence of any semblance of fun in music. The point is that fun cannot exist autonomously without something else to temper it. That something else could be incredible musicianship, it could be an emotional investment, it could be a solid beat, it could be a disco diva wailing over the top (though the last can provide some awfully hit-or-miss results). Without that something else to hold on to, it’s impossible to tell whether we’re in on the jokes or whether they’re on us. That constant, laughing sequencer line of “Jolly Joker” isn’t helping the direction of my suspicions, nor is the utter disconnect I feel from this pair of performers.
Ultimately, Why Not?! is good for a cheap thrill, and maybe for a change of pace in a DJ set, but that’s about it.
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