I Get Wet
A & M Records
For as long as I can recall, my summers have always had a theme song, some bit of catchy pop music that captured the moment and remained linked to the events of another passing season. A summer hit needs to be loud enough to get things moving and fun enough to keep you smiling.
Last summer’s unquestionable hit was “Gay Bar” by obscure Detroit garage/disco band the Wildbunch. It has not only the catchiest surf guitar lead ever and a crisp beat, but also the best lyrics of 2001. Hovering somewhere between the Village People and the Nation of Ulysses and with a refrain of “Girl, I’m gonna take you to the gay bar” it was hard not to love.
This year two early contenders have crossed the Arts and Culture desk. Sheryl Crow, on her newest record, c’mon, c’mon, is certainly dressed for the summer. Throughout the CD booklet she is pictured in various states of undress frolicking on the beach with her Foster Grant sunglasses and acoustic guitar. She looks ready to sing the season away.
Andrew W.K. is probably preparing for a much different summer. On his new record I Get Wet, we are treated to a tightly cropped photo of Mr. W.K.’s face, bleeding profusely. It doesn’t exactly scream “hot fun in the summertime,” but it does get the job done.
Andrew W.K. is unabashedly a rocker. He sports tight jeans, greasy hair, high-top basketball shoes and has no problems using the word “party” as a verb. He has also made one of the more interesting mainstream records this year.
Like the Wildbunch before him, he spent his formative years in Detroit. And more importantly, like Spinal Tap, he truly understands there is a very fine line between stupid and clever.
In a time when rock radio is dominated by make-up wearing goons and muscle-bound “nu-metal” meatheads, Andrew W.K. comes across as downright clever. This isn’t to say he is going to have to worry about ever being tagged “the next Dylan” but I Get Wet is a damn smart album in its dumbness.
Opening track “It’s Time to Party” has a big guitar hook and the vocal “It’s time to party” repeated … well, repeated a whole bunch. Similarly, “Party Hard” tells us over and over again “When it’s time to party we party hard.” Shifting gears, W.K. lets us know “She is beautiful, she is beautiful – the girl is beautiful” on the track “She is Beautiful.” I think you can see where he is going.
But in addition to his hilarious, um, simplicity, there is something great going on here. These songs are alternately big, dumb and loveable. W.K. isn’t at all self-conscious about big keyboard parts that would sound at home on a Jefferson Starship record and the kind of guitar histrionics not heard since Night Ranger. Sure, this is a guilty pleasure, but a pleasure none the less.
And it sounds great on the CD player when the sun is coming up after a long night of, um, studying. Certainly the world needs the new Wilco record, but that is not to say it cannot also have a place for I Get Wet, even if the final product suffers from a bit of sameness after repeated listens.
After my time with Andrew W.K., I thought the new Sheryl Crow might come across a little more cerebrally. Not only does she thank her therapist but also gives props to Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris and Keith Richards. I love Steve Earle, Emmylou Harris and Keith Richards.
But her thanks don’t stop there. She goes on to thank Stevie Nicks, Lenny Kravitz and Don Henley. And herein is the album’s underlying problem. For every bit of sincere songwriting there is a moment that reeks of the Eagles or Fleetwood Mac. And like Kravitz, aping the sounds classic, soft, ’70s rock 25 years after the fact is just plain boring.
The largest irony, though, was the lyrics. After digesting the clearly tongue-in-cheek lyrics of Andrew W.K. I found many of Crow’s lyrics to be inadvertently hilarious. “I wanna rock and roll this party/ I still wanna have some fun/ Like Steve McQueen/ all I need’s a big machine/ I’m gonna make it all right.” This isn’t much more compelling than W.K.’s “Fun Night,” and I think she’s serious.
Alas, it is quite possible this record just wasn’t made for me. I’ve never been partial to halter tops, bell-bottoms or the Eagles. But Detroit, that is a place I can stand behind.