Release Date: Jun 11, 2013
Record label: Island
Genre(s): Comedy, Pop/Rock, Comedy/Spoken, Music Comedy, Novelty
There are only two ways to go with this review: The high road or the low road. In a small effort to not reiterate many quotable trash-talkin’ lyrics, frequent profane comedic diamonds and straight-up gangsta flow (thus ruining the surprise for those who haven’t saved the Lonely Island’s YouTube playlist at some point in the Windows 7 era), I’ll advise those further interested to experience The Wack Album for one’s self. I cannot foresee finishing this review without pilfering at least one or two lines while we’re along for the ride, but don’t say you haven’t been warned.
Since leaving “Saturday Night Live” in 2012, it might appear that things aren't going as planned for the Lonely Island, the New York-by-way-of-California comedy troupe consisting of Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer. Samberg’s jump into full-time movie making hasn’t quite stuck, leading to one film he’s hoping that everyone will forget about and one that seemed like a minor hit at first but turned out to be somewhat lifeless. Schaffer’s turn in the director’s chair for a pair of features-- 2007’s criminally underrated Hot Rod and 2012’s underwhelming The Watch-- suggest he’s not quite ready for the upper tier in that role.
While inhabiting cartoon-ish alternate personae capable of spitting copious punchlines per verse, the Lonely Island display a masterful command of multilayered self-parody, cleverly gesturing toward the absurdity of their own existence as an artistic phenomenon. Why are these white guys in hoodies rapping about cupcakes? Why would anyone put one's dick in a box? Comprised of SNL veterans Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer, the Lonely Island has managed to harness their musical and comedic chops (and their ability to rope in one clutch guest appearance after another) to maneuver along manifold lines of cultural satire and avoid becoming just another gimmicky novelty act. Though the songwriting on the Lonely Island's third effort, The Wack Album, contains enough surprises to keep the material feeling fresh, the standout tracks are built around comedic strategies that feel very familiar.
While their first two albums of self-styled "fake rap" split the difference between rap album and comedy record, the Lonely Island's third outing, The Wack Album, finds the trio gearing up to really explore their own uncoolness with hilarious results. On the surface, it might seem like the group is simply sitting back and taking pot shots at rap culture, but the truth -- perfectly encapsulated by the back cover photo of the group standing in a pasture with a horse while wearing plaid dinner jackets -- is that the album is really an exploration of their own innate wackness. The Lonely Island don't try to come off as larger than life figures, but rather to showcase how sadly mundane they are compared to the club bangin' production that anchors their tracks.
Year after year we have the same conversation about Saturday Night Live getting worse, wondering if it’s finally time to pull the plug on the long-running comedy launchpad. But, almost as regularly, we realize that some young, anonymous comedian we once couldn’t believe was awarded a featured role on the storied institution has tunneled themselves into our lives. We find ourselves getting nostalgic about Jason Sudeikis.
Last time out, the Lonely Island made a classic joke-rap album while somehow persuading Michael Bolton to belt, "This whole town's a pussy just waiting to get fucked!" Their third LP isn't as sublimely silly, or as consistent, but it rocks the same mix of guest stars (T-Pain, Robyn), sophisticated concepts ("Semicolon") and totally unsophisticated sex jokes ("I F****D My Aunt"). The secret weapon is musical skill: TLI are versatile MCs, and A-list producers turn jokes into pro-grade pop and hip-hop. The best cut is one of only two that began as SNL digital shorts: "YOLO," which flips that carpe diem slogan into an argument for living like Howard Hughes at his urine-hoarding worst.
Ordinarily, a record featuring Robyn, Justin Timberlake, Kendrick Lamar, Pharrell and Billie Joe Armstrong would be a contender for album of the year. Then you realise that it’s a comedy album. Luckily, The Lonely Island are adept spoofers and ‘The Wack Album’ is another reliable, if disposable, set of jock-party parodies like ‘Go Kindergarten’ (EDM chorus, “Get stupid, get stupid because we said to do it”) and ‘Semicolon’, where Solange tries to make grammar way cooler.
Doubtful any album this year has told us more about rap culture than Harmony Korine’s film Spring Breakers – starring James Franco as MC/gangster Alien, plus Radric Davis as actually-trapping trap-rapper Big Arch – did upon release three months ago. And though the oft-eccentric director Korine has never (professionally) crossed paths with The Lonely Island, it can now be verified that, with the release of The Wack Album, the trio of longtime buddies from Berkeley share with Korine a similarly conceptual lens through which they view rap as a whole – something made clearer still by the very presence of a song here called “Spring Break Anthem”. As a result of a collective sense of humor that occasionally germinates as satire, the dudes direct us to a few big questions – questions of rap’s nihilism, questions of its excesses.
The Lonely Island's third studio disc presents an unlikely problem: Nearly eight years after they attained instant comedy-rap stardom with "Lazy Sunday," these "Saturday Night Live" veterans have become better rappers than comedians. On "The Wack Album," Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone rhyme with impressive style and sharp detail over tracks that sound virtually indistinguishable from those on records by Rick Ross, T.I. or any number of other A-list hip-hop acts.