Through A Note Darkly: Playing Rockstar with Flight of the Conchords' Self-Titled

Through A Note Darkly is a weekly feature on thegreatalbums.com in which contributor Chris Villalta searches for lessons in an album he's heard a lot about, but has never heard in full before

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Flight of the Conchords: Flight of the Conchords

Personal Favorite: "Business Time"

Summarizing Lyric: "'(Parlez-vous le français?)'/'Uh…non'" ("Foux du Fafa") 

I’ve never seen the show, so I’m sure I’m missing a few jokes and perhaps context for these songs, but I thought it’d be interesting to come listen to this cult comedy album as an album first. A theory I’ve heard thrown around about comedians is that every comedian wants to be a rockstar and every rockstar wants to be a comedian. I’m not sure about the latter, but shows like Comedy Central’s Comedy Jam and the over the top entrances of Kevin Hart show the desire to be a rockstar is there. Even quieter comedians like Maria Bamford seem to strive for that indie rockstar cred of playing in rooms as intimate as a closet. Flight of the Conchords shows what might happen when the comedian who lusts for rock stardom actually makes music.

“Foux du Fafa” sets the stage for a record packed with affectionate parodying. The key to making the parody interesting, however, is the signature poolside acoustic rock sound the band itself sculpted is never lost. Instead of forcing themselves to fit the mold of other genres, Flight of the Conchords make genres fit their sound. The maintenance of a clear voice allows the songs to transcend parody and be legitimately good songs that left me eager to listen again.

Fire for a guy telling jokes

The affection for the genres being parodied, however, leave a music lover with plenty of inside jokes. Like a good impressionist, Flight of the Conchords found the little silly things in the genres they loved and put them under a microscope for all to notice, silly things such as the the four count “dot dot dot dot” sounds on the “Foux du Fafa” that you didn’t know you heard on every French song until Flight of the Conchords pointed it out, or the series of censored words heard over the rainbow that you always tried to ignore until Flight of the Conchords decided to make a joke out of it on “Mutha’uckas.”

Where rockstars and comics collide

The need to make a joke, however, gives this record an underlying sense of sadness. I sometimes got the feeling that Jermaine and Brent really wanted to be Marvin Gaye pointing out the horrors of city living or Bowie making music from space. What they wanted to make was already done, so all they could do is poke fun at it in order to have an excuse for playing the world of their heroes. There are moments where the truth of their wish to be the original pokes through: all of “Inner City Pressure” where the rockstar search for treasure is interrupted by real life responsibilities, the line “if you rap like me you don’t get paid” from “Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros” where it is explicit that their inability to finish a verse cleanly is what separates the two from the rockstar rappers they look up to. I think the funniest song on the record is simultaneously the saddest song because of its honesty, “Business Time.” On this song we hear the sad truth of a regular married guy’s sex life: it happens on Wednesdays when there’s nothing good on TV. The heat of a rockstar’s night with a lady is heard in the instrumentation, but Flight of the Conchords are not rockstars; they are comedians who have sex in their socks and try to lighten that sad truth with silly songs and jokes. I believe every great joke has a hint of sad truth in it. Flight of the Conchords, as one complete joke making fun of a rockstar’s hypersexuality, has those hints of sad truth which make it into one of the best jokes I’ve heard in a long time.