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TBTS Reviews: The Lonely Island, Turtleneck & Chain

May 17, 2011

The “comedy album” is a tricky one to define these days. In the sixties and seventies, perhaps the heyday of the comedy album, Richard Pryor, Lenny Bruce and Bill Cosby ruled the roost — I remember many times as a middle schooler sitting around a record player with friends to listen to Pryor’s Live on the Sunset Strip. There was something so communal about a group of people circled up and laughing together. Pryor and Cosby, of course, dabbled also in the “concert movie” genre, but the credit for putting that on the map in the eighties clearly goes to Eddie Murphy’s Delirious and Raw, both movies trotted out at party after party and rainy day after rainy day.

The comedy album as a massively successful genre fell by the wayside with the advent of stand-up comedy’s increasing visibility in the mid-to-late eighties, and in the new milennium, with any sort of comedy at your beckoned call from a streaming internet connection, the comedy album is a path few successful comics are even employing in their paths to the top.

The Lonely Island’s first album Incredibad was born somewhat backwardly from this same conceit — Andy Samberg’s success with SNL’s Digital Shorts, of which the fantasy film homage “Lazy Tuesday” is largely considered by some to be the first viral video,  led in reverse to the recording of the Grammy-winning album. Samberg and his cohorts of The Lonely Island — Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer, both also lesser-seen staff members of Saturday Night Live — took several of the original songs featured from the variety show and committed them to disc, rounding them out with new content. Incredibad was as good of a comedy album as has been released in the last ten years, and by riding on Samberg’s stardom The Lonely Island were able to straddle the alt-comedy fence; mainstream success with an absurd, niche mindset.

Turtleneck & Chain, the Islanders’ second outing, is much the same animal — hits like “Motherlover” (with Justin Timberlake) and “Shy Ronnie” (with Rihanna) were already on the map, along with Akon collaboration “I Just Had Sex” and the currently trending “Jack Sparrow” with Michael Bolton as a movie-loving guest artist. Other artists pop up on Turtleneck & Chain as well, notably Beck in the LCD Soundsystem-esque “You’re Attracted to Us” and Santigold in the bizarre “Afterparty.” Like Incredibad, it’s an album best experienced with others, which has traditionally been the strongest way to describe both the Saturday Night Live experience and the aforementioned culture of listening to comedy albums on vinyl.

Samberg is somewhat polarizing in comedy circles; there are many funny people I know, people who know good comedy, who aren’t fans of Andy Samberg. And the entire Lonely Island take on things is sublimely skewered in a thousand strange directions, which can alienate more stalwart joke-lovers. I can somewhat understand that. But there’s one interesting thing you can’t deny about the trio: they can actually rap. They’re really quite good at it. Whether they’re simply absorbing everything they hear on the hip-hop landscape right now or getting advice from the myriad of artists parading through SNL each week, they’ve got it down. The spaghetti-western music samples of “Trouble on Dookie Island” (which describes, appropriately, the problem a team of badasses have with explosive diarrhea during their getaway) are straight Wu-Tang, while “Rocky,” which details an underdog boxing match gone horribly wrong, is as spot-on of a D.J. Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince nod as one’s ever heard.

Turtleneck & Chain, like Incredibad, is the type of album best shared with others. If we’re ranking, it would be hard not to put Mitch Hedberg’s 2005 live recording Mitch All Together and Adam Sandler’s completely bonkers 1993 They’re All Gonna Laugh at You in the pantheon of comedy recordings from the last twenty years. With the wealth of legitimate talent on display in both Island albums and the help of big-time stars (not to mention that the album is produced fantastically from an audio standpoint), one could make an argument for one or both Lonely Island albums in that stratosphere. Let’s face it; it’s seeming less and less likely that we’ll ever get another live album as good as Carlin’s Class Clown or Steve Martin’s Let’s Get Small, but that’s not because the humor’s not out there, it’s just because it’s manifesting in a more modern way. The Lonely Island has grown on the back of the YouTube generation, and that’s not at all bad. It often works in a big way. These three, whether you care for the humor or not, are talented, and they’re continuing to think, evolve, and grow with the genre they’re lovingly parodying. In an age when so many artists seem to be continually mailing it in, that’s something which at least deserves some respect, isn’t it?

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