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Comedy  |  Reviews

Heidecker & Wood: Some Things Never Stay the Same

[Little Record Company]

November 17, 2013  |  12:00pm
Heidecker & Wood: <i>Some Things Never Stay the Same</i>

Tim Heidecker has had a career full of oddities. An alt comedian if there every was one, Heidecker’s partnership with fellow comedian Eric Warheim resulted in both Tom Goes to The Mayor and Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!—shows whose unique brand of surreal, often grotesque humor viewers either loved unconditionally or hated intently. As an actor, Heidecker has most recently appeared as a guest star on shows like Bob’s Burgers, Workaholics and Eastbound & Down, as well as starring in indie feature The Comedy, a film whose dreary and abrasive sentiments guaranteed the only funny joke was its ironic title.

Aside from comedy, Heidecker has long held a love of music, performing in several indie rock bands during his formative years in Philadelphia. Teaming up with Tim and Eric composer/multi-instrumentalist Davin Wood, Heidecker formed the duo Heidecker & Wood and released the duo’s debut album Starting from Nowhere in 2011. In the process, he unveiled yet another skill—that of master impersonator. But this is not a comedian carefully mimicking the distinct cadences of Christopher Walken, William Shatner or a U.S. president—rather this is a performer perfectly emulating the vocal stylings of Michael McDonald, Harry Nilsson and Warren Zevon in a way that leans more towards homage than straight-up parody.

Heidecker & Wood continue this trend with sophomore album Some Things Never Stay the Same, making the kind of music that—had one not been privy to the lyrics—could easily be slipped onto a “dad rock” radio station without anyone noticing. Certainly, if someone had played me “This is Life” without context, I might have assumed it was merely a Todd Rundgren b-side that I had somehow overlooked.

Just as with Starting From Nowhere, Heidecker & Wood re-appropriate the prototypical soft rock sounds of the ‘70s and cheesball rock balladry of the ‘80s as earworm-y pastiche. Also, just as with the first album, it’s often difficult to tell where the joke starts and stops. Weird Al, this is not.

Take the opening track, ”Cocaine.” A propelling number punctuated by horns and guided by Heidecker’s very Zevon-influenced vocals, the song sounds like a genuine artifact of a time when idiosyncratic singer-songwriters could legitimately dominate the pop charts. If there’s any humor to be found in the song, it’s in how Heidecker & Wood have so successfully captured the tone and feel present in songs of this ilk, albeit by removing the more poetically worded, romantic depictions of drug use that some of those artists strived for.

The duo’s either on-the-nose or straight up vague lyrics are the most obvious source of comedy throughout the album’s 11 tracks. A good example of this is “Getaway Man.” Whereas most of the songwriters the duo are referencing would no doubt position the concept of a “Getaway Man” as a metaphor for a commitment-phobic man, Heidecker & Wood pushes the subject to its most literal interpretation, chronicling the life of a getaway driver and his past experiences. “I drove a tank into my high school/And I picked up the chicks that I want, that I want/Drove down, got us some milkshakes/And we sitting outside watching the evening sun,” Heidecker sings in a Bruce Springsteen-worthy rasp.

Likewise, a song like “What Else is New” takes the format of a love song but structures it as the narrator addressing his lover’s affections with a sarcastic lilt. “Salvation Street,” meanwhile, appears to be a somber, gospel-influenced tune until you listen to the lyrics and realize they are merely half-baked, clichéd phrases being comically strung together.

Then there’s “Hurricane,” which is about exactly that. Over the kind of bombastic production that wouldn’t feel out of place an up-tempo Elvis Costello number, Heidecker sings about an incoming hurricane and how the whole town will be coming to the narrator’s house to escape the storm (and, it sounds like, party in the meantime). Then, almost exactly mid-way through, the song abruptly shifts into a slower, harmony-laden interlude with guest vocalist Aimee Mann that makes the same activity sound much more mellow and contemplative. It’s as if the first portion of the song details the narrator’s expectations on how his personal hurricane gathering would go down, while the latter portion paints the more likely reality. Such a peculiar structure makes it one of the most curious tracks on the album and, in turn, one of the most memorable.

As with any musical project orchestrated by a well-regarded, non-musician figure, Heidecker & Wood’s two albums could easily be construed as little more than a vanity projects for the actor. What sets it apart is the fervor and appreciation that the two men hold for their influences. If anything, one almost wishes certain songs were more of an overt take-off on this ‘70s/’80s milieu. While the album contains many memorable moments, tracks like “On Our Own” and “Sunday Man” are serviceable neo-psychedelic and ‘70s jam rock imitations (respectively) but mostly forgettable as actual songs.

As a comedian, Tim Heidecker has spent the majority of his career playing against audience expectation and subverting the typical joke structure. As a band, he and Davin Wood have chosen to harp on pop music’s past by crafting a loving, if comically reductive tribute to its melodies and themes. That the same person could do both these things so well is, some might say, a joke in itself.

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