When you spend a good portion of your finger muscles writing music reviews, you tend to experience many different genres of music. You also tend to stall for way too long in writing certain reviews, for reasons other than just being lazy. Regardless, from hip-hop to rock to nerdcore, I have reviewed a ton of music — to the point that, after making this next statement, I am unsure if it is accurate: I have never written a full review for a comedy album. Good thing Insane Ian recently put out a CD/DVD so I could remedy that.
Let’s be clear right at the start: Insane Ian is a nerd, a geek — a speaker of gaming pop culture nonsense and trivia. This permeates his music, lyrics and pretty much everything else. This isn’t a bad thing; rather, it creates a deeper wealth of pop culture references to pull from. There is a level of geek reference obscurity that is both alienating and entertaining to those who don’t get even the base references. This isn’t saying that the album Grand Theft Audio is less entertaining, just that many just won’t get it. The flip-side is that listening to the album on repeat for a few days will force the listener to maintain a steady diet of Google searches.
Pop culture references aside, Insane Ian derives his style directly from his likely most important influence: Weird Al Yankovic (who has an introduction video at Insane Ian’s website). Whether or not he up-plays or downplays this relationship, it cannot be helped. The album kicks off with a cover of Bruno Mars’s “Grenade” — well, the music at least. The name of the song has been changed to “Bomb-Omb” and the lyrics adjusted accordingly. Same game plan as his role model Weird Al. However, there is nothing wrong with this at all. Rather, we have a fresh voice in music parody with different sensibilities and humor. Insane Ian sprinkles in the original tracks as well, each with a healthy dose of satire, less than serious storytelling and tongue-in-cheek delight-fulness.
It’s tough to review this genre of music not only with a straight face, but without the regular judgments of non-comedic music. With parody tracks, you have to look past the music — because most of it is lifted from the original songs — and to the lyrics and writing. Did this album make me laugh? Did I get the jokes? Will other people get the jokes? These are the questions you have to ask — as well as doing a standard cliché check. I can accept parody, but not when it is just a series of clichés strung together. However, Ian succeeds in transcending the obvious jokes and lifting his parody up a notch. One of my few criticisms of the album, however, is how disjointed it feels.
To be fair, creating a parody album that doesn’t feel disjointed and disconnected is a challenge that eludes most comedy artists. It’s hard to come up with a central feeling or theme when you are sampling popular music and replacing the lyrics with your own jokes. I think for me — and I experienced the same effect on the accompanying DVD — it is because the music was recorded and released over the last four years (rather than in one studio session or month of recording) that the album has that misaligned feel to it. That being said, each taken for its own merit, most of the songs on the album tickle enough funny bones to excuse the construction of the album. Perhaps this is harsh criticism, but I know artists like Ian grow and refine their processes because of it, and I look forward to that.
After the “Grenade” cover, Grand Theft Audio offers a full slate of covers, as well as a few original tracks. Kiki Canon, Devo Spice and Schaffer the Darklord chime in on “We’re All Gonna Die,” Luke Ski kicks in lyrics and vocals on a few tracks and Ben Stahl performs most of the music on the album. One of my favorite tracks was “(If You’re Wondering If I’m Stalking You) I’m Stalking You”, a cover of a similarly named Weezer sound. I certainly enjoyed the liner notes in the DVD in relation to this song and others. It gives the music a personal touch if there is a story behind the song rather than just “this song was popular so I did a parody of it”. Where Weird Al has his polka tracks, Ian has the “Super Epic Video Game Medley”. Or in this case, a second version of the original containing a mash-ups of medleys that wouldn’t be enough for their own songs. I enjoy tracks like this because let’s face it, we’re all geeks here and songs about video game characters pop our coin blocks.
Grand Theft Audio suffers from a very clichéd and joke name — but don’t let that stop you from enjoying the parody within. While the name might be the easiest joke on the album, it does not represent the snickers and finger snapping pop catchiness to the music and lyrics. This is a fun album, great for parties and listening to at work. It didn’t make for good driving music, which might be a tad contradictory when compared to the source material that the album name is based on, but only because laughing at jokes while driving can be distracting.
As for the DVD (and you thought I forgot that I mentioned that); don’t expect high production values. These are videos that are either acoustic or live performances, and homemade music videos. With that in mind, the DVD is a good compliment to the CD. The DVD makes for fun viewing because you get to see the audience and artists enjoy what is going on. They are laughing and singing along and that always makes for better viewing. Again, best for parties and warming up for a major retro gaming session. I wouldn’t suggest watching the DVD while driving though. In the end, this was an enjoyable compilation of Insane Ian songs and only whets my whistle for the next step in his burgeoning career. There will always be room in the musical world for parody albums, and I’m glad Insane Ian is out there delivering the funny.
You can pick up the album now at Insane Ian’s Bandcamp page.