Saturday, April 04, 2009

Album Review: "Close Calls With Brick Walls" by Andrew W.K.


So in my last Andrew W.K. review, I lamented what I perceived to be a dropoff in Mr. Wilkes-Krier's recorded output since 2003's The Wolf. I said this, foolishly, not even considering the fact that the man has indeed released a couple records since 2003 - 2006's Close Calls With Brick Walls, and a collection of J-Pop covers in 2008 (dubbed The Japan Covers). Like the ignoramus I am, I shrugged these records off, considering them a little too obscure to take seriously - I mean, both were only released in Japan, for God's sake! Where am I going to find them, being the pigheaded American I am? Hell, Close Calls doesn't even have an Allmusic grade! How am I supposed to know what to think of it??

Of course then I remembered this whole "downloading music" deal and found Close Calls online lickety-split. And then, upon listening to it, the breadth of my idiocy truly came to light. Because it just might be the man's finest record!

And yes, that might be a mighty claim to make, considering the now-classic status of I Get Wet (I'm not joking there). But despite the non-stop fun of that album, Close Calls just sounds better to me. For one, it's more diverse - where I Get Wet has a pretty consistent, straightforward formula of "gut-busting super-processed testosterone-rock" with an occasional dance beat or piano intro thrown in for good measure, Close Calls is absolutely all over the map. You've got full-blown piano solos ("Dr. Dumont"), bass-driven poetry slams ("Golden-Eyed Dog"), goofy techno-pop ("Pushing Drugs"), jazzy incantations ("Slam John Against A Brick Wall"), dark guitar riff-fests ("Hand On The Place," "Mark My Grace") - the list goes on and on. And not only that - I might as well get this out of the way - there are no party songs on this album. Oh sure, there are the usual odes to debauchery in "Las Vegas" and "I Wanna See You Go Wild," but there are no songs with the word "party" in them. Not a single one.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Not to worry, though! The old Andrew W.K. hasn't disappeared under a veil of bizarro experimentation - if anything, he's just gotten more manic. "Not Going To Bed," the first single off the record, takes the party-hearty formula of I Get Wet and turns it on its ear; it's a song about staying up all night and never ever going to sleep, ever, taking the message of "Party Hard" to its logical conclusion. It's easily the loopiest, funniest, and maybe even catchiest single he's ever put out. And thankfully, Close Calls retain's Andrew's wonderful gift for epic anthems - "You Will Remember Tonight," "When I'm High," and closer "The Moving Room" should be enough to convince anybody that Mr. W.K.'s still got it (or at least, he hadn't lost it by 2006). But even the tracks most similar to I Get Wet are a hell of a lot weirder, not to mention the fact that - get this - he actually sings in his normal singing voice most of the time! And hey, his voice is pretty good! It's nice to know that he can actually move beyond the guttural power-grunt of his first two albums without sacrificing his aggressively happy personality.

Hell, even the lyrics get crazier, something I did not expect. Songs like "One Brother" - with a melody that would suit any of his usual party-till-you-puke lyrics - starts off with "I can roll out of sync with the beat of a rink / 'cause I roll on my own terms / I don't need any sisters anymore / I already ate my fill of worms." I definitely get a quasi-psychedelic vibe from Close Calls, especially from the two opening tracks that don't sound like Andrew W.K. at all - the unusual ballad "I Came For You" and the synth-driven dirge of "Close Calls With Bal Harbour," a song that wouldn't sound out of place on the second side of Ween's Quebec. It's only until you reach "Not Going To Bed" that you realize that, despite his newfound weirdness, this is still Andrew W.K.

So maybe Close Calls won't appeal to Andrew W.K. diehards who swear by his first two records. I don't know. What I do know is that Close Calls feels like a real step forward, and was probably one of the weirdest and most entertaining records released by a mainstream artist in 2006, which makes it all the sadder that he hasn't released a record in the US since The Wolf. It also, unfortunately, means that in the US Andrew W.K. may well be remembered as a one-hit wonder who only replicated the same formula with The Wolf only to shuffle off into obscurity, which is a shame. Close Calls proves to me that the guy is much more than a novelty - hell, I Get Wet already proved that to me, but this one is so much more diverse and well-produced that it leaves no room for doubt. Every bit of goofy weirdness, Wagnerian bombast and hard-rock psychedelics that bubbled under the surface of his first two records finally comes to a head on Close Calls, and it is quite a glorious thing.

I also have managed to come across The Japan Covers recently, which I haven't listened to all the way through yet. Maybe I'll review it in the future. I know Andrew apparently planned Close Calls to be the first in a trilogy of new records, ending with Young Lord in 2007, but that never came to pass. A shameful shame. He does, apparently, have an all-piano album coming out sometime this year. It's good to know the guy's still active. We all need a little joy in our lives, don't we?

LATE EDIT: This review was very nicely linked to on Andrew W.K.'s website. I don't know how they found this blog and/or the review, but thank you SO MUCH to whoever posted it! It's crazy! (If it was actually Andrew W.K. himself, hotdamn, THANKS EVEN MORE)


Anonymous said...

I agree with just about everything you said here. So nice to see other people discovering this album. The lost Andrew WK record? Hopefully not forever. It rocks.

Adam said...

Man, more than anything, this album caught me off-guard at the start, what with not one but TWO songs before we heard something resembling the Andrew W.K. we knew from albums past. Lots of neat stuff here - the glitzy "Las Vegas," the hilarious "Don't Call Me Andy," and the downright funky groove of "Slam John Against a Brick Wall" are among my favorites in addition to traditional classics like "Not Going to Bed" and "I Want to See You Get Wild."

Sometimes I may prefer "I Get Wet" to this though - while "Close Calls" is brilliant in its own twisted way, sometimes I like the uniformity of the first album. Guess it depends on what mood I'm in. Both are great though.

Anyway, congrats, Sean on the exposure via the Andrew W.K. website. And that anonymous comment? The knowledge about the lost record? Hmm...

Anonymous said...

Hey, yah, saw this review linked on a couple sites (and I guess I have to check this album out now. I've heard "You Will Remember tonight" on the Masters of horror soundtrack. Happy happy, joy joy!

Anonymous said...

Great review. I do prefer I Get Wet and The Wolf more, but Close Calls With Brick Walls is deffinately a lot of fun and very awkward at times. (In a good way). And just a side note, he does say the word "party" once on the record. In the very beginning of "Not Going To Bed" he yells "Are you ready to go to sleep? - NO! PARTY!!!" That's it.

Pauley Boom said...

Yo Sean, it's your old roomate baby! I just came across this link and gotta say a couple things about this blog of yours.

One, you're a great writer man, and I'm glad to see you're still writing about stuff you care about (not shot analyses and shit).

Two, you gotta check this out if you haven't already seen it:

Andrew WK is tha man!!!

Anonymous said...

great review. listening to it now .... this album is immense!