Andrew W.K.: 55 Cadillac

Andrew W.K.'s confounding muse takes him in the direction of solo piano.

Andrew W.K.

55 Cadillac

Label: Ecstatic Peace!
US Release Date: 2009-09-01
UK Release Date: 2009-09-07
Artist Website

There's this little lingering strand of incredulity that happens the first time you hear that Andrew W.K. was, as it's put in so many of the articles about him, "classically trained". He looks like the frat-guy musclehead who went to college for the babes and who's majoring in kegstands 101, and the music he released way back in '02 did nothing to dispel that notion. Sure, there's a time and a place for things like "Party Hard" and "She Is Beautiful" -- straightforward, poppy metal that has about as much subtext as a brick to the skull -- but nobody would ever mistake it for instrumental brilliance. Listen to the piano in "Party Hard", and you hear one octave pounded over and over again in straight quarter notes, a mere coat of paint on the wall of guitars the song is so proud of throwing at its listeners.

This, from a "classically trained" pianist?

55 Cadillac (sic) is probably an album that Andrew W.K. had to make, and good for him. It's a statement of not being trapped by your past, of having the sheer will to create a piece of art that falls completely and utterly out of step with all that you've previously created. On the album, Andrew W.K. proves once and for all that he is, indeed, a "classically trained" pianist, in that he can make his fingers do things on a piano that many hack performers can only dream about. In a way, I'm happy to have had the opportunity to hear 55 Cadillac, because it puts an awful lot of his other work in a new light -- that despite its one-dimensionality, the human being who created it is fully three-dimensional, and quite gifted to boot.

Still, all the classical training and finger skill in the world cannot make you a great composer, and this is where 55 Cadillac fails miserably. The vast majority of the album is simply solo piano, with the occasional sound of a passing car breaking up the tracks, giving the album the sound of somebody sitting next to a dark road in the middle of the night with his grand piano, playing to his heart's content. If this was Andrew W.K.'s intention, he achieved it. That said, the songs -- which, according to his MySpace blog "showcase [his] spontaneous piano improvisations, as well as his visualized manifestations, whatever that means -- don't fall into any sort of genre. There's no consistent mood, and there's no direction or arc to any of it. Sometimes it sounds like underdone classical tinkering, sometimes it borders on jazz, occasionally you get '50s rock 'n roll underpinnings to a floaty little melody. Sometimes, it's just a guy banging the living shit out of a poor, helpless piano.

Really, you don't have songs, you have an admittedly talented guy screwing around with a piano for 40 minutes. It'd be like bringing the local piano prodigy to a bar, downing a few drinks with him, and watching him flop around on the keys for a while: sure, he'll attract a few onlookers, curious sorts impressed at his technical skill, particularly while inebriated, but eventually it'll get old and his audience will go back to their dart games and lousy pick-up lines (at least until he gives up the improv and plays "Piano Man"). 55 Cadillac is fine background noise, but by the time five minutes have passed, you've heard all you need to hear, and you can move on to someone who actually thought about what he was writing for more than ten seconds before he played it.

On only one track do we hear anything other than the passing cars and the solo piano: the concluding four-minute track titled "Cadillac". At two minutes, a second piano appears for more layers, and a third, and then there's a drum machine, and then there's an absolutely ridiculous electric guitar that shows up and insists on comparing its endowment with the rest of the instruments around it. Finally, the whole thing ends, and Andrew W.K. finally grants us a vocal appearance, in the form of the word (what else?) "Cadillac" -- except that it sounds something like "CADILLAAAAAAAOOOOOOOOHHH", and instead of remarking that Andrew W.K. did it, he actually made an album of solo piano music that didn't sound absolutely awful, you're left wondering what the hell just happened.

55 Cadillac is a vanity project from a man who might never have seemed deep enough to warrant such a thing. The two hours or so it took him to come up with this release only goes so far as to prove that he's not.


This book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Marcelino Truong launched his autobiographical account of growing up in Saigon during the Vietnam War with the acclaimed graphic novel Such a Lovely Little War: Saigon 1961-63, originally published in French in 2012 and in English translation in 2016. That book concluded with his family's permanent relocation to London, England, as the chaos and bloodshed back home intensified.

Now Truong continues the tale with Saigon Calling: London 1963-75 (originally published in French in 2015), which follows the experiences of his family after they seek refuge in Europe. It offers a poignant illustration of what life was like for a family of refugees from the war, and from the perspective of young children (granted, Truong's family were a privileged and upper class set of refugees, well-connected with South Vietnamese and European elites). While relatives and friends struggle to survive amid the bombs and street warfare of Vietnam, the displaced narrator and his siblings find their attention consumed by the latest fashion and music trends in London. The book offers a poignant and jarring reminder not just of the resilience of the human spirit, but also of its ability to seek solace in the materiality of one's present.

Keep reading... Show less

The World of Captain Beefheart: An Interview with Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx

Gary Lucas and Nona Hendryx (photo © Michael DelSol courtesy of Howlin' Wuelf Media)

Guitarist and band leader Gary Lucas and veteran vocalist Nona Hendryx pay tribute to one of rock's originals in this interview with PopMatters.

From the opening bars of "Suction Prints", we knew we had entered The World of Captain Beefheart and that was exactly where we wanted to be. There it was, that unmistakable fast 'n bulbous sound, the sudden shifts of meter and tempo, the slithery and stinging slide guitar in tandem with propulsive bass, the polyrhythmic drumming giving the music a swing unlike any other rock band.

Keep reading... Show less

From Haircut 100 to his own modern pop stylings, Nick Heyward is loving this new phase of his career, experimenting with genre with the giddy glee of a true pop music nerd.

In 1982, Nick Heyward was a major star in the UK.

As the leader of pop sensations Haircut 100, he found himself loved by every teenage girl in the land. It's easy to see why, as Haircut 100 were a group of chaps so wholesome, they could have stepped from the pages of Lisa Simpson's "Non-Threatening Boys" magazine. They resembled a Benetton knitwear advert and played a type of quirky, pop-funk that propelled them into every transistor radio in Great Britain.

Keep reading... Show less

Acid house legends 808 State bring a psychedelic vibe to Berlin producer NHOAH's stunning track "Abstellgleis".

Berlin producer NHOAH's "Abstellgleis" is a lean and slinky song from his album West-Berlin in which he reduced his working instruments down to a modular synthesizer system with a few controllers and a computer. "Abstellgleis" works primarily with circular patterns that establish a trancey mood and gently grow and expand as the piece proceeds. It creates a great deal of movement and energy.

Keep reading... Show less

Beechwood offers up a breezy slice of sweet pop in "Heroin Honey" from the upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod.

At just under two minutes, Beechwood's "Heroin Honey" is a breezy slice of sweet pop that recalls the best moments of the Zombies and Beach Boys, adding elements of garage and light tinges of the psychedelic. The song is one of 10 (11 if you count a bonus CD cut) tracks on the group's upcoming album Songs From the Land of Nod out 26 January via Alive Natural Sound Records.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.