Bret McKenzie: Songs Without Jokes
Not wanting to chance potential misunderstandings, Bret McKenzie—who is most well known for being one half of the New Zealand– hailing folk-comedy duo Flight of the Conchords—titled his debut solo album Songs Without Jokes. Presumably, one could interpret this as a joke itself, if these were in fact comedic songs, but no, McKenzie has indeed traded in his trademark faux earnestness for a true singer-songwriter ethos—at least for these 11 tracks. And he mostly succeeds at the transition, although fans of Flight of the Conchords may find themselves hearing the first few lyrics of jaunty opening track “This World” and half expecting the punchline to drop, when in fact it’s just a bouncy song about climate change. Any possible trepidation should quickly melt away, though, because McKenzie hasn’t left behind any of the skills that made his other group an international hit—he is, at his core, a brilliant songwriter with an undeniable knack for melody-crafting. He also brings the genre-hopping tendencies of Flight of the Conchords to this record, jumping from the subdued “Here For You”— which finds McKenzie donning a bit more rasp and channeling a musical spirit akin to The National—to the jovial “A Little Tune,” which sounds like it could have been plucked straight from an old-timey saloon or burlesque show. McKenzie’s influences are proudly on display throughout Songs Without Jokes, with tracks like “Dave’s Place” and “America Goodbye” embodying the open-road temperament of a Dire Straits tune, while “That’s L.A.” echoes the shiny slickness of Steely Dan. Admirers of McKenzie’s work in the comedy sphere would be wise to check out his “serious” stuff here as well; even though it might be sans jokes, this music is still lovingly crafted and reflective of a highly talented musical mind.