Release Date: May 21, 2013
Record label: Island
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
Willy Moon looks and sings like a ‘50’s rock star, but he uses modern day faux vintage recording techniques and hip-hop breakbeats. This review of Here’s Willy Moon, the New Zealand wannabe Elvis’ debut, could stop right here and have said all that needs to be said about Moon’s musical approach. Any excitement ginned up over his debut album will rest its case on the union of those two styles.
A New Zealand wannabe pop idol who samples Wu-Tang Clan, has moves like Elvis, covers Little Willie John and Screamin' Jay Hawkins (while gleefully ripping off the Yardbirds), Willy Moon doesn't fit into anybody's definition of a conventional star in 2013. Instead, he is a glorious oddity, a cheeseball peddling a vision of the past learned entirely through YouTube, creating records that are unwitting throwbacks to a bygone era -- not the '50s, but rather the decadent height of the late '80s/early '90s, when Langer/Winstanley ushered Rick Astley onto the top of the charts around the world. Willy Moon doesn't have the vocal chops of Astley, nor is he purely a song-and-dance man.
Willy Moon knows how to make an impact. The chisel-jawed 23-year-old Kiwi cuts a smart shape in his suit and slicked-back hair and his debut album, coming in at just 29 minutes, is equally as sharp. The man himself describes his sound as “Bo Diddley remixed by Swizz Beatz” – and while both of these comparisons might be somewhat over generous, there’s an ambitious, fuddled charm to what he does.
Last year, Jack White's first solo album offered a cover of Little Willie John's I'm Shakin'. This year, Willy Moon's does the same – and offers a microcosm of their differing approaches. White's version was jumping but respectful; Moon's puts a scratchy guitar line atop juddering drum-machine beats, while he quavers and hollers the vocal line in 50s fashion.
Odds are you'll have heard Willy Moon, even if you don't think that you have. Following early endorsement by Jack White and Jools Holland (the footage of a supremely agile Moon ballsily flinging himself along the length of the Later... studio really is quite something to behold, even if it understandably divided opinions among viewers), his single Yeah Yeah was picked up by Apple for the iPod commercial that seems to be a necessary step on the way to cross-over pop success these days.
"Bo Diddley remixed by Swizz Beatz" is how this New Zealander describes his music, which is awesome, as an idea. His debut doesn't quite sound like that – Willy Moon's a frail flower compared with Diddley, and his beats are pedestrian next to Swizz's. But he's on to something. His songs take the ferocity of early rock & roll, add hip-hop-flavored beats, ladle on some feedback – and move on before wearing out their welcome.
As somebody who has never owned an Apple product, and not been seduced into paying a visit to Chapelfield and walking through the clear welcoming expanse of the Apple Store entrance to get seduced by a blue shirted person with the enticing charisma of Willy Wonka and the street savvy tech babble tongue of Kevin Pereira, a significant of the Apple advertising campaigns have passed me by. I’m not like an alcoholic television viewer who leaves the room when asked 'Have you got a WKD side?' - I haven’t consciously turned my back on the cult of Jobs, or boycotted Apple products for some spurious self-righteous reason. I just haven’t really had the cash to afford them.
Most recent 50s revivalists have been meticulous in recreating the vintage sound of their heroes. Not young New Zealander Willy Moon, who combines rootsy rock'n'roll with the production dazzle of 00s hip-hop and dance music, in a way that dares you to call it horrible things like rockabilly dubstep. Don't wince, his debut works far better than it should.
What sort of phase was 23-year-old Willy Moon going through when he decided to grace his debut with a cover of ‘Shakin’, the same Rudy Toombs track reworked by Jack White on ‘Blunderbuss’? Moon has snuggled up to Big Jack once before at Third Man Records, and it ain’t a complimentary juxtaposition. Where White’s ‘Shakin’ sweated sassy evil, Moon’s is hamstrung by contrived effort. Where White’s ‘Freedom At 21’ gelled rockabilly and hip-hop rhythms, Moon’s sales pitch of ‘1950s rock’n’roll with modern production values’ ranges from the boybandish iPod ad horror of ‘Yeah Yeah’ to the decently punchy retread of Kanye’s ‘Power’ on ‘Get Up’.
Gone are the days when getting your music featured on an iPod advert meant a hefty amount of attention; Willy Moon’s single ‘Yeah Yeah’ was used last year but for many, his debut album will be the first they’ve heard of him.From the sounds of it, it might not be the last though. ‘Here’s Willy Moon’, the singer’s debut album, is pretty good. The strings that begin opener ‘Get Up (What You Need)’ are joined by a clever hip-hop beat, but there’s even more to it than that.