Sunday, April 26, 2009

let’s eat carrots together, until…

here are a couple questions i’ve been long seeking to answer. first, is it possible for musical comedy/comedic music to be “more” than just jokes sung to generic chord patterns? second, is it possible for comedic music to not be totally and painfully dorky?

music + comedy: a match made in hell??

i don't usually make a point to discuss things i don't like, but i will say this: i grew up in a household that revered the work of mr. weird al yankovic. i was submerged in his specific 90’s mtv world, but i remained uninterested. obviously he's good if you dig that sorta thing. he manipulates JUST the lyrics of existing pop hits so the song can parody itself, or the genre in which it exists, or the pop culture in which it exists. pretty good but umm...super dorky in weird al's case.

but about that time björk entered my life! and her comedic songs are quality. she can take a great song, exaggerate it or re-contextualize it in a way that just makes it silly, or allows the style to become a parody. on top of that, her comedic lyric-writing is clever and cute. my favorite example is the song “i miss you”. it’s a great-sounding song that musically she pushed just a little over the top, making it just a little cartoonish. then, the lyrics are funny, cute, and relatable: “i miss you, but i haven’t met you yet.” i always grin when she desperately strains, “when will i get my cuddle??”

“where is the line” is another good one. björk’s original intention was to combine a cappella choir with heavy metal: a choral piece to which one could head-bang. youtube has cracked down on music videos like a motherfucker so i can’t find an album version to share (plus the music vid kinda sux! just an opinion of mine). the songs is 100% a capella: beatboxing! the lyrics are serious, everything else is exaggerated, you know? the song sounds TOO dark, and the beatboxing is silly, especially in its bizarre context. i love it. where is the line: one of björk's best musical achievements...?

instead, enjoy "who is it", also a groovy a cappella jam (on the album). the vid, for starters, is funny and also beautiful. but listen to the song for the "funny" sounds folded in. she describes them as humans imitating the sound of slot machines spewing coins. those sounds are present even in this awesome handbell version.

lastly, how about “declare independence”? there’s several layers of meaning to the song, and one of them is comedic. in this scenario, the speaker is telling a girlfriend who has been done wrong by her man to declare independence, don’t let them do that to you! björk has cited this interpretation as her original purpose for writing the song, and she thought it would be hilarious to speak to someone as though they were a country: “start your own currency, make your own stamp. protect your language!” all over-dramatic, the comforter trying way too hard.

after that i found cibo matto. i LOVE cibo matto. miho, one of favorite people ever, is a great and spunky vocalist, and the lyrics she sings are not just clever (which they are), but totally hilarious. the accompanying music is the best of the 90’s: pop, grunge, hip-hop. their songs speak for themselves.

you cannot beat this. GREAT SONG. “extra sugar, extra salt, extra oil and msg. SHUT UP AND EAT!” funny and badass.

also, i love
junior senior. the more i think about it, though, i’m not sure whether they intended to be so funny...doesn’t matter. LOVE THEM.

so those are a few “musicians who do comedy”. what about comedians who do music? certainly eric idle wrote truly excellent songs for monty python, perhaps the best of the best as far as “funny songs” go:

everyone knows them all, and they are GREAT. and a few besides the eric idle ones; i mean, the lumberjack song?? – will probably be a classic forever. but isn’t it as i said: great lyrics, cheesy setting? not to say that the cheesiness isn’t entirely intentional, that it doesn’t contribute to the funniness, but like i said: i’m looking for seriously groovy funny tunes.

i love the tv show flight of the conchords. i think the concept is loosely based on the idea that the show’s characters appear emotionless, almost robotic, and always clueless, and when confusion and bewilderment reach a peak, the characters use music as a way to suddenly express themselves in an extremely over-the-top, silly way. in the first season i enjoyed the deadpan dialogue exchanged between the band and their manager or between the band and arj barker/kristen schaal, but the songs made me cringe because they were so dorky. also, i felt that while the lyrics may be worth a laugh, the musical arrangements were not equally clever.

then the second season happened, and i appreciated the subtle change; less “funny” folk songs, more genre parody. the characters would use a genre instead of just “song” to express themselves, and the references were all over the place. the arrangements, actually, are extremely literal, and almost not over-the-top or cheesy at all (compared to the reference). what pushes it into parody IS the literalness (so literal and serious it becomes silly), and who's behind it, and WHY they're doing it.

bret, jemaine, and murray use west side story-style singing and dancing to battle their respective foes.

a parody of all cause-awareness-raising songs.

bret & jemaine use r. kelly- style r&b to discuss the excitement they feel over the new “romances” in their lives. and then to lament their mutual discovery.

(there's many more if you don't got that fancy hbo and haven't seen the new episodes. just peruse youtube!!)

what’s unfortunate is that, first of all, what makes the songs funny is how they sit in the context of the show, and even if the arrangements are clever, i still don’t want to listen to them on my mp3 player. secondly, they’re still SO DORKY. i understand, though, that the guys' awkward and uncool nature add a crucial comedic element to many of their songs. maybe i'll come around. i love the show so much i forked over $40 to see them live without even considering the fact that i don't love all their songs, and that murray won't, in fact, be involved. sigh. i'll report back post-concert.

björk and miho win. & junior senior, specifically junior cos he’s so cute and i like his new songs. who could’ve guessed? i’m so biased.