Those zany Brits are at it again. Though they seem unable to zero in on worthy native candidates for Next Big Thing status (Gay Dad, anyone?), the limeys have lately hit a very high percentage trendspotting rock ‘n’ roll artistes on this side of the Atlantic. It was in the U.K., you’ll recall, that ubiquitous year-end top-10-ers the Strokes first elicited music-press hysteria. Same goes for dynamic Detroit duo the White Stripes, who were treated to fawning attention in England long before the New York Times finally got the familial facts straight. And now the mother country has uncovered and anointed Detroiter/New Yorker/Floridiot Andrew W.K., whom the NME has described as sounding like an unholy combination of Queen, Slayer, and the beloved Meat Loaf.
Two out of three, as someone once said, ain’t bad.
Just in case you haven’t heard, Andrew W.K. is a hyperactively percussive American trash rocker whose Brit-press encomiums stem in part, I’m guessing, from his ability to write the best soccer-hooligan themes ever. Until now, Mr. W.K.’s oeuvre consisted of just a handful of indie and import-only EPs, the raucous AWKGOJ and Party Til You Puke, and the even more raucous She Is Beautiful and Party Hard. The title track of the last entered the U.K. charts at No. 14—as if it were “Bat Out of Hell III” or something. Now Mr. W.K. has a new long-player, I Get Wet, which, to put it in the only vernacular that applies, fuckin’ kicks ass. The disc clocks in at 35-and-a-half headbanging minutes and includes—I swear—nothing but catchy parts. All 12 songs (three of which have the word “party” in the title) are singalong chantfests, explosively wired with pop-metal chord progressions, Andrew’s roaring vocals, and relentless, discoid drum beats. It’s an unwieldy, unlikely mix—Sweet on crank? Cheap Trick on Jackass?—but nonetheless makes a bizarre and blissful kind of sense.
Seriously, there probably hasn’t been anything this instantly, disposably infectious since Twisted Sister’s “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” And to judge from the sound of his disc, Andrew W.K. could be the now-grown-up kid from the video, who, when confronted with everyone’s least favorite parental query, responds with the only answer plausible when you have a repulsive electric twanger strapped round your chest and metal posters plastered on your wall: “I wanna rock!” Which answer eventually sends dear old Dad flying out the window and, one always hoped, into a well-deserved, concussion-induced nightmare.
Speaking of nightmares, the cover art for I Get Wet is certainly fodder for them. It features a head shot of Andrew, his face bloodied from a nosebleed he claims he gave himself during the photo shoot, because, you know, he means it, man. Inducing concussions also seems to be a part of the plan here. The disc opens with “It’s Time to Party,” a thrashing workout that folds the brainless ecstaticism of Quiet Riot’s (by way of Slade) “Cum on Feel the Noize” into the brainless defiance of the Sister’s finest moment and then, using the track’s spine-crushing backbeat for a hammer, nails the whole thing deep inside a New Wave-y sheen of delicious, treble-cleffed synth. Consider yourself warned: At the very least, the track will give you whiplash if you try to dance to it.
Turns out, though, that this “Party” is just a 90-second preview of the next one. A Meco-style robot voice provides the briefest of segues into “Party Hard,” a frenetic, furiously bouncing rocker with just a single-note piano attack there to anchor the track’s swooshing guitars and thunderous drums. With his band kicking up a mighty, albeit click-tracked, ruckus, Andrew holds forth with lyrics that conjure the spirit of “Working for the Weekend,” Loverboy’s great socialist critique of capitalism’s rat race: “You/You work all night (all night)/And when you work/You don’t feel all right.” Andrew’s suggestion? As if you needed to ask: “So let’s get a party going.”
Set to the rhythm of a walloping kick drum, Andrew’s fervent, nearly accusatory shouting is enough to make you wonder whether there might be a pun lurking inside all of I Get Wet’s nearly ubiquitous talk of parties. Consider, for instance, “Don’t Stop Living in the Red,” the disc’s church-organ-drenched closer, whose title provides the song’s only lyrics. Neo-Marxists could hardly do better epic-fight-song-wise, and this one could convert Beavis and Butt-head to the cause, if only they were around to hear it. (That they’re not, by the way, is a genuine tragedy. Andrew W.K. makes Beavis Rock in the same way that Lynyrd Skynyrd made Freedom Rock. Turn it up, dude!)
After the disc’s opening salvo, the merely hard-rocking “Girls Own Love” (known in an earlier incarnation by the vastly superior title “Girls Own Juice”) feels like a ballad, with Andrew showing himself to be not only an especially zealous party boy but also a bit of a ladies’ man. “She Is Beautiful,” the disc’s best track, follows suit, with Andrew busting out a sweetly direct pickup line worthy of everyone’s favorite emo boy—you know, the one who can bench-press twice his own body weight: “I never knew girls existed like you,” he screams. “Now that I do I’d really like to get to know you.” Things get somewhat randy on the Def Leppard-like “Take It Off,” but, to his great credit, Andrew really does seem to like girls. There’s nary a trace of latent metal misogyny to be found anywhere on I Get Wet.
Indeed, Andrew seems either too enlightened or too naive to be bitter about much of anything. Or maybe he’s just too buzzed. The quadruple-timed “Party Til You Puke” has the title of a great drinking anthem, but it sounds suspiciously like the Cars circa Candy-O playing a matinee hardcore set to an underage crowd loaded on Jolt cola. The title track is similarly spastic, opening with a synthesized fanfare suitable for the Junior Olympics before lurching abruptly into the kind of music eighth graders would play in their Trans Ams—if only they could drive. And even the provocatively titled anthem “Ready to Die” opens with a plinking windup-toy intro before seguing abruptly into the big monster drum rolls that Andrew and teenage boys everywhere live for.
So, yep, the kid is hot tonite, but where will he be tomorrow? It’s hard to imagine Andrew W.K. sustaining this kind of intensity for very long, strapping lad of just 23 though he is. And, admittedly, as heartfelt as his maniacal rockin’ out seems to be, the songs on I Get Wet eventually do start to sound a tad formulaic—even, at times, self-consciously retro. Irony kills, as all serious metalheads know, and sometimes Andrew sounds as if he spends his free time combing through cutout bins for that rare Whitesnake outtakes bootleg in the same way Beck goes rooting around for deleted Barry White product. Not a good sign.
So it’s easy to suspect that though he’s fighting for your right to party now, Andrew, like so many telegenic music revolutionaries before him, may eventually get co-opted. Who can resist for long the twin forces of compulsory capitalism and the natural human desire not to have a day job? Sadly, it’s probably inevitable that those forces will conspire to turn Andrew W.K.’s joyfully metallic noisemaking into commercial-soundtrack fodder. In fact, on the Slade-worthy “Fun Night,” when Andrew chants the title phrase, it already sounds as if he were saying “Bud Light.” This time next year, he probably will be. Get him while he’s not. CP
Andrew W.K. performs with the Apex Theory and Lost Prophets at 8:30 p.m. Tuesday, April 9, at the Black Cat, 1811 14th St. NW. For more information, call (202) 667-7960.