The emergence of YouTube and its ilk have allowed scores of comedy musicians to become overnight sensations, though the majority of them exhaust their novelty value with the same velocity with which they burst into the public consciousness. There are, of course, exceptions to this rule, with managing to forge a successful career for themselves from their online notoriety. With two full-length albums, a successful HBO sitcom, and a myriad of arena tour dates and awards coming out of their ears, it’s safe to say that New Zealand’s Flight of the Conchords (Bret McKenzie and Jermaine Clement) are one of those exceptions. Their latest offering, I Told You I Was Freaky, cherry-picks musical interludes from the second season of their acclaimed television series, seeing the anti-folk duo stick to what they know and never straying too far from their comfort zone.
The Conchords’s lampoons tread the same ground as in their self-titled debut, chronicling single-male insecurities—love, friendship, dejection, self-image, etc.—over a mixed bag of genre parodies. Album opener “Hurt Feelings” tells a story of overly sensitive rappers, with Bret and Jermaine reassuming their hip-hop monikers (Rhymenocerous and Hiphopopotamus, respectively) to illuminate the woes of your everyday emcee: “I make a meal for my friends, try to make it delicious/Try to keep it nutritious, create wonderful dishes/Not one of them thinks about the way that I feel/Nobody compliments the meal.” Indeed, I’m sure there isn’t a day that goes by without the Wu-Tang Clan bickering over the merits of Method Man’s aubergine lasagna, but that’s hip-hop for you, I suppose.
It’s evident from tracks like “Hurt Feelings” and tame crunk spoof “Sugalumps” that the Conchords are seeking to move away from their folk pigeonholing, and Freaky‘s more generous production budget allows them to do so, but few of these ventures manage to establish the same quality of narrative as their basic guitar-based precursors. Instead, we’re often left with empty satires that exist solely as send-ups of a particular genre, where the Conchords’s strengths lie in weaving madcap stories and relaying their kooky observations. “Demon Woman” sees them playing to these strengths, telling of a bizarre encounter with a demon woman (no surprises there) in a heavy metal spoof with all the trimmings of a histrionic Iron Maiden fable. Bret shrieks the song title repeatedly while Jermaine snarls such witticisms as “Demon woman, you sit on a rock/Looking nice in your frock, but you’re scaring my livestock.”
Beyond the ‘80s synth-pop sound of “Fashion Is Danger,” though, the record’s middle sector is bereft of such belly laughs. “Petrov, Yelyena & Me” is a purposeless yarn of cannibals lost at sea, and “Friends” is a hackneyed analysis of male camaraderie, while “You Don’t Have to Be a Prostitute” is charming enough without obliging any real guffaws. This could perhaps be attributed to the contextual nature of many of the tracks; without the image of Jermaine in preposterously tight hot pants, or the backstory that surrounds many of the series’ musical numbers, the lyrical content proves less engaging.
Freaky‘s penultimate ditty is a cast-iron highlight. Recounting a string of failed relationships over a delightfully fizzy refrain, “Carol Brown” is conceivably the Conchords most formidable piece of songwriting to date. Each doomed spouse has her own story (“Felicity said there was no electricity/Emily, no chemistry/Fran ran, Bruce turned out to be a man/Flo had to go, I couldn’t go with the flow”) that Jermaine elucidates for us before indulging in a bout of embittered call-and-repeat interplay with a choir of said girlfriends. It is a great credit to Freaky that even when it doesn’t split your sides, it can at least have you tapping your toes when on form. In essence, this is what separates Flight of the Conchords from their inferiors, and what has kept these endearing New Zealanders interesting going into their sophomore full-length outing. Unfortunately, for the odd dizzying high that the album provides, we are burdened with fatigued lows by the same token. The material is better served in context, complete with music videos and framed with dialogue, whereas as a standalone record it misses more than it hits.