Flight of the Conchords come billed as New Zealand’s fourth most popular folk-parody band, ranking just behind Like of the Conchords, a Flight of the Conchords tribute band. (If you didn’t get a chuckle from that, you probably won’t get these guys.) Comprised of Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, the Kiwi duo have found their niche by combining humor that ranges from the subtle (“The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room)”) to the outlandish (“Bowie” and “Robots”) with a variety of musical genres. Their self-titled, full-length debut for Sub Pop Records culls fourteen songs from their acclaimed stand-up musical act and hit HBO series.
Reviewing this album is an odd task, because all of these songs are already well known to fans through other mediums. Perhaps FOTC is the first band in history to debut with a greatest hits collection! The real issue is whether these hilarious songs work without the visual components of the stage and screen. Can the Conchords conjure up that same magic in the recording studio? The answer is yes and no, with the yeses far outnumbering the nos.
First, some definite yeses. “Foux du Fafa” is an infectious dance song that conveys the dangers and pure silliness of knowing just enough French to get yourself into trouble. “Think About It” is FOTC’s attempt to address the issues plaguing our society. Think Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?” but about monkey diseases and bizarre accidents with cutlery. The best track on this album might be “Mutha’uckas,” a song that jokes about the censorship required to play hip-hop on radio and television. “The mutha ucka runs a racist uckin’ grocery/The mutha ucka won’t sell an apple to a Kiwi.” Another highlight is the backhanded “The Most Beautiful Girl (In the Room),” the perfect song for when Miss Right isn’t available, and you have to settle for Miss Right Now. “You’re so beautiful…you could be a part-time model/but you’ll probably still have to keep your normal job.”
A couple nos. Songs like “Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros” and “Robots,” both long-time fan favorites in concert, simply aren’t done justice in the recording studio. The energy is lacking on these two tracks, and the chemistry between Bret and Jemaine-the foundation of the band’s appeal-is lost in the production. To sum it up: it’s like listening to just ok versions of phenomenal songs.
The most disappointing part of this album, though, as is the case with all collections, is the omission of songs we love. It seems criminal that gems like “Cheer Up, Murray,” “Frodo,” “I’m Not Crying,” and “Song for Sally” didn’t make the cut, but perhaps they’ll make their way onto a future release. Having too many good songs, after all, is a good problem for a band to have.
This is a fine debut for McKenzie and Clement, made even more impressive by their ability to make the bulk of their songs work in a medium for which they weren’t originally intended. To gain an even greater appreciation for the musical and comic talent of this pair, be sure to check out their HBO series and their live act. They are currently touring the United States, and I’ll be catching them May 14th at the historic Chicago Theatre. I’ll report back with a full concert review.