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New Zealand comic/musician Bret McKenzie came to prominence in the ’00s with Flight Of The Conchords, comedic actors—including partner Jemaine Clement—whose horndog humor meshed well with their chameleonic musical spoofs.
Now, making musical comedy (or jokey music) remains one of the most difficult entertainment-industry tricks to pull off. Similarly, how many comedians have successfully crossed over into the role of serious musician, rather than become makers of novelty tunes? There’s Bill Cosby, but we can’t talk about him anymore. If you say Eddie Murphy or Whitmer Thomas, you’ll get laughed out of the room. So, McKenzie’s new album, Songs Without Jokes (Sub Pop), is his attempt to prove that he doesn’t need the “crutch” of comedy to entertain folks.
“Man Or Muppet” from The Muppets soundtrack earned McKenzie an Academy Award for Best Original Song in 2011, and its sincere balladry foreshadows some of his new album. Songs Without Jokes abounds with smoove compositions that will appeal to fans of Nilsson, Paul McCartney, and Father John Misty’s showtune-y and sensitive sides. McKenzie’s melodies will insinuate themselves into your brain upon impact, and he keeps his word: There’s nothing funny about lyrics such as “This world is broken/The planet ain’t copin’.” But the hooks come cool and light, and tracks such as “Dave’s Place” and “That’s L.A.” will put a smile on your mug. Seriously.
📸: Bret McKenzie / Sub Pop Records