Year after year we have the same conversation about Saturday Night Live getting worse, wondering if it’s finally time to pull the plug on the long-running comedy launchpad. But, almost as regularly, we realize that some young, anonymous comedian we once couldn’t believe was awarded a featured role on the storied institution has tunneled themselves into our lives. We find ourselves getting nostalgic about Jason Sudeikis.
And though SNL is still producing new titans of entertainment (recently Kristen Wiig, Amy Poehler and Tina Fey), what has notably diminished is the SNL crossover vehicle, where a character from the show makes its way onto the large screen. The Lonely Island loosely falls in here, with the group’s raps typically getting their premiere on the TV broadcast.
But on the three-pronged rap group’s third album, The Wack Album, we find all the members no longer employed by the late-night show, with Jorma Taccone departing as a writer a year before fellow writer Akiva Schaffer and cast member (and Joanna Newsom-thief) Andy Samberg.
Still, the show debuted the first music video from The Wack Album, showing the project to be at least partly dependent on SNL for their continued exposure and success. More notably, just the necessity of accompanying visual complements to their songs might be saying more about the quality of the songs than before.
This is not always the case. “YOLO,” the Adam Levine and Kendrick Lamar-featuring parody on the very concept of “you only live once,” doesn’t lose its wink when removed from the over-the-top boy-band send-up, and likewise “Semicolon” doesn’t require the lyric video that The Lonely Island have offered, with the rhymes straightforward and clever enough for anyone to follow without a visual aid.
However, “Spell It Out,” which is funny for about one-third of its very short runtime due to being a two-joke song, doesn’t work because by only listening you would never bother knowing what is actually spelled out. The video doesn’t make it much easier, but at least offers sight gags as support. Likewise, “Spring Break Anthem” also needs its great Between Two Ferns setting to really allow the listeners to invest.
The hit (“Perfect Saturday”) and miss (Billie Joe Armstong’s tragic hook on “I Run NY”) pattern plays out throughout The Wack Album. But, jokes aside, the reason The Lonely Island is reviewed in a critical manner is their history of replicating contemporary rap and pop trends with guile, creating material that sounds like what we expect of popular music—enjoyable even if it’s not making you laugh.
On album three, there are few moments that work to this same effect (“Yolo,“ “Semicolon,” the hilarious “Diaper Money”), but for the most part, it’s the dirty or profane that plays the best. “Go Kindergarden” might be the least coherent song The Lonely Island has crafted, but Robyn’s hook would have been wasted if not for blunt dick jokes. Too common are diversions like “We Are A Crowd,” “I’m A Hustler (Song?)” and “We Need Love”—all more Weird Al than Spinal Tap, or the LP equivalent of The Naked Gun 33 1/3. That flick was good for some laughs, but in no way holds up to the model it was fashioned after.
In defense of The Wack Album, and more importantly in defense of The Naked Gun 33 1/3, as long as there are 13-year-olds and weed and girls that crush on Andy Samberg and boys who think maybe Joanna Newsom will be a surprise guest, The Lonely Island will be a success and good for a few hearty laughs, which is worthwhile in most books.