The Lonely Island - The Wack Album
A quick story. Two years ago I was driving home from the NSW Snowy Mountains. It’s a six hour drive without traffic. 90 minutes in to it I received a phone call, Dad. Why was he calling me? He was still back at the campsite for another few nights with the rest of my family. Then, horrified, I looked to my left. Sitting on the passenger seat were the keys to his car.. I basically yanked the handbrake on, movie style, and punched it back in the other direction. How frustrating is it to add 3 unnecessary hours of driving to your day? About as frustrating as a trip to centrelink or the local emergency room.
Needless to say, I was in a mood. I had metal playing as I broke land speed records in my humble Elantra, navigating around perplexed holiday makers and outraged locals. When I finally turned once again for home, six hours of straight highway stretching endlessly in front of me, I was quite fearful. I was exhausted, I didn’t think I’d possibly make it. Then I remembered I had a band to check out. Well not a band, sort of a rap collective. The Lonely Island. Incredibad and Turtleneck & Chain. I pressed play and settled down.
Next thing I know I’m home. Literally. I don’t think I’ve ever become addicted to something so quickly. These guys are fucking AWESOME! Somehow they’ve managed to do what no-one since Slick Rick has done; married a potent technique with seriously on fire production and kept your attention with a hybrid blend of wit and intelligence, satire and story-telling. Not only are Samberg, Schaffer and Taccone hilarious, they seem to have an inner ear that all the best emcees do. Their flow and cadence is so diverse and their accents so interchangeable that every track was fresh and new. “Jizz In My Pants” was a breathless whisper track, “We Like Sportz” is some of the driest humour I’ve ever heard, right down to the monotone delivery, and “Japan” is this crazy, helium-like romp through the foreign country that you can’t help but laugh at.
We arrive at The Wack Album. See the problem with most rap music is that it’s repetitive. Lil Wayne raps about pussy, money and weed. Killer Mike raps about the Government. E-40 spins stories. Young Jeezy raps about cocaine. Snoop Dogg raps about marijuana. It’s unavoidable, even the most diverse of mainstream rappers (Eminem, Kanye, Nas) fail to bring too much new material to the table. The Lonely Island, however, have been quite diverse – premature ejaculation, riding on a boat, a champagne by Carlos Santana and group sex with an alien. They’ve carved a niche for themselves. So why reject that niche on their new album?
Finding such a diverse range of topics to rap about may have hamstrung the trio on The Wack Album. They amass a startling array of star power, however they are ultimately the controllers of content, and we cannot expect Kendrick Lamar to come up with a brand new humorous topic. Subjects range from sarcastic comments on one night stands (“Hugs”), a maddening yet overdue tirade against rappers spelling words out that is reminiscent of Lil Wayne’s “Let the Beat Build”, without the satisfying climax (“Spell It Out”). There is a tribute to the semicolon, a description of the devil’s threesome, a horrible track about sleeping with your Aunt, and numerous harmless tracks about love and naivety splashed about. It sounds promising, but the three just seem to lack that lyrical edge they managed on their first two releases.
There are still some excellent, laugh out loud moments, and some downright outrageous lines. Verse 1 song 1 – “Fellas, whip your dick out – whip, whip your dick out / Indiana Jones and whip your fuckin’ dick out”, and “Have a motherfuckin’ baby on the floor / Raise it in the club, home school it by the door”. The crassness could be a blatant shout in the face to merchants like Tyler, The Creator, but the funny thing is the way The Lonely Island approach making fun of raps heavy hitters never feels malicious or aggressive. It’s as if they are ribbing their best mates in the school yard, they never seem intent on calling anyone out, just providing a humorous parody of someone else. The brilliant “YOLO”, the standout track on the record, toes this line wonderfully. So many people have chastised Drake for his song, which became a catch-cry of the nitwit. People who used YOLO seriously were generally avoided by the wider public whose IQ was loftily north of around 30. But Lonely Island approach it with good intentions, providing the exact opposite viewpoint; that life is short and you only live once so don’t waste it and practise extreme caution in all situations – “And don't travel by plane. / And don't travel at all. / Build a bomb shelter basement / With titanium walls”, “Board your windows up, / The sun is bad for your health. / And always wear a straight jacket / So you're safe from yourself”. Kendrick Lamar drops by for his worst verse in the last 2 years, sucking the life out of the song, but its upbeat production and Adam Levine driven chorus is the perfect example of that edge that previous tracks had, that x-factor.
The guests provide quite lacklustre performances as well. Justin Timberlake is the exception, his falsetto rising wonderfully on “3-Way (The Golden Rule)”. Unfortunately, Lady Gaga’s effort on the same song is weak; she is consigned to a real background role. Hugh Jackman on “You’ve Got the Look”, another real disappointment, is completely out of place, and not in a funny way, it just feels weird and forced. “You're rocking one solo titty, and that's your right. / Now you're running this city with one sexy titty / All damn night.” T-Pain, collaborator on the brilliant “I’m On A Boat”, lends his sultry vocoder to “I Fucked My Aunt”, another punch that falls flat. Solange is slightly less disappointing, but she adds little to “Semicolon”. It’s just a tad sad. Previous guests like E-40, Michael Bolton, the insanely brilliant verse from Natalie Portman, Akon, Santigold, Julian Casablancas.. The list goes on. They were all brilliant, and propelled the hilarity to new heights, usually due to the ridiculous situation you found them in. Natalie Portman rapping about doing drugs and beating guys up? Michael Bolton blasting an epic chorus about his favourite movies. This is all missed.
It may come across that I really dislike this record. It’s not that, and the first few times I heard it I almost fell in love, I thought it was hilarious. Unfortunately, it didn’t stand up to the test of time. The production is brilliant, it’s deserving of much higher honours than a comedy parody record. This has always been the case, but particularly here on The Wack Album it pops. Diaper Money is literally only funny because the beat sounds exactly like something you’d find on the latest Waka Flocka Flame mixtape, making the parody so much more apt. “We are a Crowd” has that cunning school boy appeal that they do so well, and the final track “Perfect Saturday” is (apart from being a weak fart joke) a beautiful throwback to 90s chilled summer anthems like Will Smith’s “Summertime”.
6/10. It hurts because I do love The Lonely Island, but The Wack Album is a real disappointment. A lack of punch, a lazy lyrical effort, tenuous subject matter and lacklustre guest verses mean that this release is not the 8 or 9 I was expecting. It is a nice listen that will give you some laughs, there are some excellent one liners, but that is all.