Review: The Lonely Island’s “Incredibad”

Feb 25, 2009 10:18am

First off, I’m one of the biggest “Saturday Night Live” fans who ever walked the planet.  I have the first four seasons on DVD.  I watch it every week without fail.  There was a good seven year period where I was recording it on video and collecting each episode.  I’m the show’s biggest defender when people say it has gone downhill. I’ve read books on the subject and know the cast history inside and out.  The Lonely Island consists of SNL cast member Andy Samberg and SNL writers Akiva Shaffer and Jorma Taccone.  Their “SNL Digital Short” series has become a regular highlight on the long-running series.  It all began with the very inspired “Lazy Sunday,” a hardcore-toned hip-hop song about waking up late, eating cupcakes and trying to go buy tickets to see “The Chronicles of Narnia.”  It was random, inspired lunacy.  The beat was cool, the song was funny and fellow cast-member Chris Parnell brought his best game to the table.  It was the kind of track which made me hope for this album.  Sadly, of all the tracks here, this is one of the few which still stands up.  “Incredibad,” for the most part, is a shockingly unfunny record.  It’s the kind of asinine junk you might make with your high school buddies, but it should’ve never seen a wide release.  It’s an embarrassment.  I had high hopes for this record.  The “SNL Digital Shorts” are indeed a mixed bag, but on the show, when they hit, they hit hard.  When they bomb, it’s catastrophic.  The thing is, the songs that are good, are mostly good and funny because of their accompanying videos.  The Lonely Island guys must know this since they released the album with a bonus DVD showing many of the shorts featured on the record. On the CD, with only the audio, many of these tracks show their weakness.  The album starts with “Who Said We’re Wack?”  It’s a minute long intro to the pain you are about experience.  It brings to mind the tough guy posturing of early nineties boy-bands.  No doubt Samberg, Shaffer and Taccone are making fun of this, but it seems to have misfired.  In other words, this track is indeed “wack” and disrespectful of true hip-hop and its history.  Next comes “Santana DVX.”  This is an ode to Carlos Santana’s sparkling wine.  I’m amazed to find out that this is actually a real product, so the Lonely Island do get points for pointing out this strange celebrity tie-in and the beat is interesting.  They even get some authentic hip-hop help from rapper E-40, who comes in and raps from Santana’s point of view.  This track is mildly amusing but mainly because it’s a shock that Santana actually has a brand of sparkling wine.  Once that settles in, the track isn’t really all that amusing anymore.  Next comes “J__z In My Pants.”  It’s a hip-hop song about, let’s say, getting too excited.   Like the rest of this record, it’s not for the easily offended.  (This album more than earns its warning sticker.) A few weeks back, the video for this song was actually on the later portion of SNL and it killed.  It was hilarious.  On record, it loses its punch for some reason.  It just becomes a crass, mildly amusing novelty song.  Maybe it was so great on the first viewing because of the pure shock that the NBC censors were actually allowing something so outrageous to hit the air.  Once that shock is over, it’s not great.  Samberg and Taccone interestingly decided to deliver their lines in fake British accents.  In the video, Taccone actually looks like he belongs in some sort of low-grade European singing group.  The video is included on the DVD, but on the CD that joke is lost.  “I’m On A Boat” also was on SNL a few weeks back.  The video is obviously a parody of Jay-Z’s clip for “Big Pimpin’” and other needlessly extravagant rap videos but on the CD the track is just ridiculous.  (“I’m on a boat! / “Look at me, I’m on a boat, motherf___er!”)  It’s not funny.  It’s just stupid.  The video at least gives the song cultural context.  T-Pain guests, vocoder and all, to hit the nautical theme fully over the head.  Very sad.  Jack Black tries his best to help them out on “Sax Man.”  Black talks up a legendary saxophone player, supposedly behind him.  When he calls the sax player out for a solo, there are a few sputters (I suspect from a cheap keyboard) and then moments of silence.  Needless to say, said “Sax Man” is reluctant.  If this track works at all, it’s because of Jack Black is a pro.  I’ll take a Tenacious D. album any day over this album.    Next comes the album’s only true success, “Lazy Sunday.”  I said that this worked before, but here are the reasons.  Chris Parnell’s guest appearance gives the song some much needed attitude and heft.  It seems to be one of the only tracks here built from true love of the hip-hop genre.  It’s more than an empty punch-line, for it delivers the artistic goods as well.  It’s also very quotable.  (“Mr. Pibb + redvines = crazy delicious!” and “You could call us Aaron Burr for the way we’re dropping Hamiltons.”)  Somehow this track succeeds and it’s because it has a real spine.  After the album’s greatest moment, the listener is quickly hit with one of the stupidest moments on the record.  Like many hip-hop albums today, this record is bogged down by pointless skits. “Normal Guy – “Interlude” isn’t even worth discussing.  It would be a waste of precious text.  “Boombox” is a synth-driven slice of slow-tempo hip-hop.  Think of something somewhere between Miami bass music and Southern crunk.  The hook is sung by the Strokes’ Julian Casablancas! (Julian, has it really gotten that bad?)  In the song, Samberg is a young guy at an old folks’ home who gets the crowd dancing by playing a little music.  I guess we’re supposed to laugh at the idea of “old white people dancing.”  It’s not that funny a concept.  “Shrooms” is another pointless interlude.  A ravey-beat comes on and the guys repeated squeal in high voices, “I’m on shrooms!!!”  Do you have to be on something to find this funny?  Maybe.  “Like A Boss” takes a more potent stab at Southern hip-hop, with its sequenced beat and its repeated title.  Samberg is in a “performance review” where he describes his daily activities.  After each one, a slowed down voice punctuates each section with the phrase, “like a boss.”  It all starts out pretty normally, but then devolves into various sex acts and fits of violence and debauchery. According to the “performance review,” Samberg emasculates and kills himself every day.  Once again, it’s not really funny. “We Like Sportz” allows Shaffer and Taccone to shine without Samberg.  It is a mildly humorous techno rap about the enjoyment of sports.  These two characters are supposed to be fanatics but they sound completely stiff and uninterested in their tone.  It’s all completely deadpan.  This is a million times funnier when you see their stone faces on the DVD video version.  On the album, it just induces a low-grade chuckle.  The DVD also has a prequel to this song. It’s a video called “Just 2 Guyz.”  Apparently these two half-hearted characters ( Guy #1 and Guy #2) are recurring.  They have yet to appear on SNL.  “Dreamgirl” puts Norah Jones in the center, singing the hook for a sarcastic song about a very unattractive woman.  It’s only mildly amusing when it suddenly morphs into a song about Chex Mix. Otherwise, it is mean-spirited and cruel.  Jones has proven she has a sense of humor before, but she was much funnier a few years back on her foul-mouthed cameo on Mike Patton’s Peeping Tom album.  She deserves better material. “Ras Trent” is about a white college student who suddenly decides to go Rasta.  This did appear on SNL and it’s not funny in either form.  Samberg simply annoys here and the character is just a pathetic, sad poseur.   Anyone who ever went to college understands the source of inspiration, (especially if you’ve ever seen a blonde-dredded guy playing hackey sack in a “quad”) but still this is just painfully awful.  Next comes the Justin Timberlake-assisted “D__k In A Box.”  It was funny initially on SNL, again for shocking reasons, and it did net them an Emmy, but it doesn’t hold up on the album or over repeated viewings.  The video is supposed to make fun of early nineties R&B groups like Color Me Badd.    You can’t do that when you have Justin Timberlake by your side.  He’s just as silly and mock-worthy as any member of those groups. (Remember, this is the dude who wanted to bring “Sexy back!”  Really? Seriously?) I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.  I don’t understand Timberlake’s appeal. His voice is nasally and whiny.  I applaud that he has a sense of humor about himself but he’s not funny.  “The Old Saloon – Interlude” is another pointless snippet making fun of all the rappers who do tough, grimy songs about “the wild, wild west.”  It’s just another minute you’ll never get back. "Punch You In The Jeans” is a hip-hop ode to (you guessed it) punching people in the jeans.  The beat is sort of nice, but again the subject matter is lacking.  I will say that compared to some of the violence in real hip-hop, the lackluster, almost innocent tone of this track sounds almost refreshing.  It makes its point but it’s still not very funny.  “Space Olympics” is digitally-assisted synth music about the Olympics in the future.  Everything has gone wrong in the world and all the events are canceled.  Again, it’s not funny.  Like “Ras Trent,” it wasn’t even funny when it first appeared on SNL. “Natalie’s Rap” also originally aired on SNL and it stands next to “Lazy Sunday” as the second most successful cut on the record.  Actress Natalie Portman makes fun of her squeaky clean image by saying the most obnoxious things over a hip-hop beat.  It’s outrageous and filthy and a shocking hoot.  That being said, it was funnier on the show than it is on the album.  The black and white film which accompanied the track is sadly not included on the DVD.  The track goes downhill when Samberg decides to sing very badly near the end.  In general, though, the beat is decent and Portman plays up a negative image well.  The joke is that thankfully it is all a joke.  The album ends with the album’s title track, which describes the group’s origins.  Apparently, according to the song, when they were all thirteen, they were essentially propositioned and molested by an alien in order to save his race from extinction.  In return they made a deal with him to become “the greatest fake M.C.’s on Earth.” The call and response style sounds like a really bad Beastie Boys impression.  Again the track is more creepy and upsetting than funny.  “Incredibad” is the filthiest NBC tie-in since Triumph the Insult Comic Dog’s album, “Come Poop With Me.”  The difference between the two is that Robert Smigel, (also an SNL veteran) is an inspired, demented comic genius.  Behind his crass set of jokes is a more cerebral context.  Perhaps the Lonely Island will get such a knack with more experience.  It’s not out of the question for them to do a redeeming follow-up record.  In fact, I really, truly want them to redeem themselves.  I wanted this album to be great.  Those “SNL Digital Shorts” often succeed, but this album is hack-y. This seems to me like fraternity humor.  These guys sadly make Dane Cook seem fresh, exciting and topical.  (He isn’t!) Perhaps his fans will dig this.  Frankly, Jimmy Fallon’s album, “The Bathroom Wall” was funnier.  It just goes to show that not everyone on SNL has the sharp wit and timing of Tina Fey or Will Ferrell.  I am truly and utterly disappointed.   But SNL has always been a huge umbrella for comedic diversity.  That’s part of its true greatness.  There will always be appealing cast members who will be funny and others who won’t.  Someone else might think differently.  This album may find its fan-base.  As much as I truly wanted to like it, I just cannot.  I have to agree with the opening track.  Unfortunately, this album is “wack!”      ”Incredibad” is an accurate title for this waste of resources.  It’s a one star-record. 

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