New York-based hard rock pranksters aim high with a concept album, and land somewhere in the middle
At the risk of damning with faint praise, Cheeseburger's eponymous 2006 debut was one of the decade's best Big Dumb Rock records -- loud, funny, boastful (really, it's the album that the Stooges' The Weirdness wishes it were) and tied together with phony DJ banter, weather reports and commercials for a cheesy Jersey bar called Rowdy P's. If you don't have it, go get it. Since then, guitarist Christy Karacas co-created Adult Swim's Superjail! cartoon; the band has added a few additional members; and they've all been spending a lot of time listening to the Hold Steady. Their sophomore offering, Another Big Night Down the Drain, is a loose concept album full of late-night parties, drunkenness and (kinda-sorta) redemption. Unfortunately, setting the band's stoopid actions in a larger context has rendered them far less fun.
At their best, Cheeseburger are still cartoons -- even without Karacas's Superjail! affiliation (the band performs the theme song, to boot), their stint on the Williams Street label makes sense. Opener "Party Song" describes a massive, out-of-control throwdown and unveils the band's beefier, tougher sound, with frontman Joe Bradley getting in a few gems like "Somebody called Tokyo; somebody pay the bill!" After a few more boasts ("Winner", "Big Night"), Bradley's narrator meets some jailbait ("Tight Jeans"), sneaks out to meet a girl ("Jellybean"), gets even drunker ("Deep in the Cups"), loses some girls ("Suzy", "Gina") and finally comes to terms with his screwed-up-ness in a completely no-lessons-learned way ("Roll Like That"). They're all topics that fall squarely in the band's wheelhouse, but the album lacks the verve that made Cheeseburger such a riotous, nose-thumbing blast; it's all too aware of its concept album status. The soulful horns and organs of album centerpiece/drunken blooze "Bobby's Theme" (actually repurposed from the debut record) aren't really what the band does best, but the narrative needs that moment. Elsewhere those horns and organ only draw distracting comparisons to the Stooges, Springsteen and the aforementioned Hold Steady. (Indeed, Karacas's blocky leads feel like they've been run through the Tad Kublerizer.)
All that said, the album's postscript -- a drunken stumble called "Good Time Charlie", which heavily borrows its melody from Bob Seger's "Sunspot Baby" -- is the most likeable moment on the record. So I'll end with a question that these pranksters would surely appreciate: Why so serious?