[8 May 2002]
Upon first receiving Keller Williams’ latest album Laugh, I was initially won over by the humorous songs, tasty guitar work, and funky jazz treatments offered up by Williams and his buddies Dave Watts and Tye North. But repeated listens only managed to draw attention to the worst aspects of Keller Williams - namely the same things that I originally liked about the album. Laugh is a bit too slick and smirking for its own good.
Not to mention that it’s just too damn long as well. There are 15 tracks here, and the disc pushes its 74-minute limits. It’s fine and all if someone actually has over an hour’s worth of music to listen to, but artists rarely do these days and Williams is no exception. The bloated Laugh is another example of an album in search of an editor. And while Keller’s guitar picking/slapping/strumming is indeed a marvel to hear the first time, his fretboard acrobatics become as interesting as Yngwie Malmsteen’s classical extrapolations of heavy metal guitar after four songs.
It’s that intricate slapping and picking that opens up the album on “Freeker By The Speaker”, another one of those “humorous” exposes on the dance club scene as witnessed by the outsider looking in. Hearing Williams funk it up and sing lines about ravers such as “Rave girl with a lollipop binky / And a face full of metal / Her eyes as wide as a truck / And somebody just floored the pedal” elicits the sought after laughs the first time around, but hearing it a second or third just makes one feel that it’s nothing but another tired laugh at an easy target.
Such is the problem with a few of the other songs on Laugh. The second track, “One Hit Wonder” is as unfunny and obvious as you’d probably expect from a song with that sort of title. Like the ravers who got skewered in the previous tune, Williams goes for the throat of those who aren’t knotting up their fingers in wasted chords. “A simple little ditty / With a catchy little hook / And three cowboy chords / That you learn from a book / I’ll pierce both my eyeballs / And cut and dye my hair / And I’ll do what I am told until I disappear into thin air.” Again, Williams goes for the worn-out easy targets here that many other and wittier artists have tackled countless times before.
Williams’ attempts at social humor remind me of the great band Thrillcat whose terrific album Oneword released in the early ‘90s did everything Keller wants to do here, but much more effectively and musically to boot. But that was then and this is now and Williams is offering up fare such as “Bob Rules”, an ode to Bob Barker and The Price Is Right that makes one yearn for “Weird Al” Yankovic, and “Vabeeotchay”—a song about Virginia Beach that misses its intended funny bone as well. The biggest problem with Williams’ lyrics is they aren’t half as clever as he thinks they are. It’s almost as if he’s too cute for his own good, as a song like “Gallivanting” and its extended use of alliteration makes clear. “Appetite for applesauce / Abrasions applaud / An arachnid the acrobat / On the angry aromatic Arafat” is just the start, as Keller continues this pace alphabetically through to the letter g, per verse. How charming.
Elsewhere, there are instrumentals that wear out their welcome (“Hunting Charlie”, “Mental Instra”—another bad idea, “God Is My Palm Pilot”), a cover of Ani Difranco’s “Freakshow”, and the “Freeker Reprise” to close the album that clocks in at just over 16 minutes. If you can make it to the halfway mark on Laugh, then good luck. The attention span needed for this album isn’t worth bothering to find as Williams plays out his tricks within the first three songs.
It’s ironic that an album that is so obviously made to be laughed along with, smiled to, and well liked is so utterly boring. Or perhaps it isn’t at all. Williams seriously needs to cut back on the all-you-can-eat aspects of his albums and turn them into leaner, meaner works that don’t lose their intended edge and purpose before the first quarter of the album is over. Laugh could have very well been a fun and funky album, but instead it’s a sprawling, charmless work that will probably find a niche audience and not much else.