Flight of the Conchords' new album, like their second season, is frustratingly uneven.
Understand one thing right now: comedy is terribly important. Good art is supposed to reflect and amplify aspects of our lives, and while critics tend to emphasize the brilliance of melancholy artists, silliness and hilarity is part of life, too, and art ought to reflect that as well. In his Journals, Kurt Cobain called "Weird Al" Yankovic the greatest musical genius of our times, and there's something to that.
What this means is that the mediocre score awarded to Flight of the Conchords' second album, I Told You I Was Freaky, isn't because it's a comedy album, something too often dismissed as lightweight and disposable. It's because it's a comedy album that isn't very good.
Most of these songs don't have the same wit or sense of purpose that characterized the songs on their debut, which doubled as the soundtrack for the first season of their TV show. These are songs from the second season, and the pressures of time and expectations are readily apparent -- some songs, like "We're Both in Love With a Sexy Lady", sound like a desperate attempt to fill three minutes of airtime. It's got some good jokes and amusing wordplay, but never quite coheres into a song, and fades out abruptly without any sense of conclusion.
Others fare worse. "You Don't Have to Be a Prostitute" and "Fashion Is Danger" go nowhere without their accompanying visuals, and are pretty light on jokes. The absolute nadir is "Demon Woman", which appears to be a parody of overblown late '70s and '80s rock, full of Satanic imagery and rockin' guitars. First of all, Spinal Tap and Tenacious D have mined this territory pretty extensively already. Second, it's hard to parody this style of music by being more over-the-top; at this point I think even the Scorpions realize that the Scorpions were ridiculous. Instead, the parody is just a crappy version of one of those songs. Lyrics like "Your hair is like silk / You're curdling my milk / I know not of what ilk thou art" are neither outsized nor intentionally bad enough to either caricature or undercut the style of music they're mocking.
Lurking amongst such disappointments, however, are a handful of truly excellent Conchords songs. Opener "Hurt Feelings" returns to the territory of the first album's "Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros", combining the boastful attitude of rap with completely inappropriate subject matter. Brilliant rhymes abound, with first prize going to "I feel like a prize asshole / No one even mentions my casserole". "Sugalumps", an ode to testicles, finds them singing lines like "You probably think my pants have the mumps" and "Honeys try all kinds of tomfoolery / To steal a feel of my family jewelry" over synthesized dance pop.
There are even a handful of songs that are better here than when they appeared in the TV show. Without a plot to shoehorn it into, Bret's sea shanty about cannibalism, "Petrov, Yelyena, and Me" doesn't feel quite as out of place. "Rambling Through the Avenues of Time" also works surprisingly well, with Jemaine's spoken interjections providing a hilarious counterpoint to the pretentious poetry of Bret's imaginary romance ("She looked like a Parisian river / What, dirty?"). There are also some songs that seem to take up space until a particular joke or verse ties the whole track together, like Arj Baker's guest rap on "Too Many Dicks (On the Dance Floor)" or the last verse of the title track, which finds Jemaine having sex with ghosts and cutlery.
Flight of the Conchords' first album hit on a winning formula by mixing the earnestness and self-importance of white-boy folk and hip-hop with the stupidity and naïveté of the characters performing it. On I Told You I Was Freaky, the joke often appears to be that they're performing a certain kind of song (like sing-song-y a cappella or reggae), rather than the song's actual content. Such jokes wear thin quickly, making them novelty songs in the worst sense of the word -- amusing when new, tired immediately thereafter.