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Flight of the Conchords
Flight of the Conchords The Quietus , May 15th, 2008 00:00

Flight of the Conchords - Flight of the Conchords

Spend an evening at a comedy club and you’ll likely be cursed at some point with comic songs, performed by an eyebrow-waggling berk who thinks his barren material can be rescued by rudimentary strumming. Thanks to hundreds of crap comic songwriters across the decades, many people are now allergic to the whole genre. Even the few performers with both the tunes and the wordplay " Eric Idle, Tom Lehrer, Victoria Wood " were best in small doses. But with their self-titled LP, Flight of the Conchords have made a rare thing: a comedy album that’s still fun on the second, third and 44th listen.

As this is the LP of the HBO series of the Radio 2 series of the live show, it’s all tried and tested material. If you’re new to New Zealand duo Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement, you’re getting in on the top floor with their greatest hits. For records like this to work, the jokes have to be strong enough to support the music if it flags, which it mustn’t ever do, and vice versa. Flight of the Conchords pass both tests.

Appreciating the technical skill of accurate parodists is a singular, nerdy pleasure, and those who seek it are in heaven here. The Conchords favour rap, ragga and R’n’B because they’re the best counterpoint to their comic personae: chaste man-children who keep including mundane phrases (“overheads... transaction fee... sort out the recycling”) in their smooth love anthems. For a couple of weedy white guys their falsetto soul is spookily convincing, but they can do anything with startling authenticity. 'The Prince of Parties' is a stylish aping of shagadelic late-60s sitar minstrels. Ignore the lyrics about flutes and underpants, and 'Inner City Pressure' could be real early Pet Shop Boys. 'Think About It' nails the chicka-chicka guitars and histrionic social message of right-on 70s Motown.

Affectionate fanboy details are everywhere " 'The Most Beautiful Girl (in the Room)' displays an intimate knowledge of Prince backing vocals " but these aren’t just facsimiles. The Conchords rise above their influences to sound like themselves. It helps that, even on an album as eclectic and lovingly produced as this, they’ve kept the duelling acoustic guitars of their live act. Moreover, also intact is their cuddly, celebratory, unique comic world.

Comedy songs are cringeworthy when they’re too on-the-nose. The ’chords barely brush the face. Whether it’s 'Think About It’s obsession with cutlery, 'Mutha’uckas' with its hip-hop dissing of a fruit seller (“He’s gonna wake up in a smoothie”), or 'Bowie' and its fixation on David Bowie’s nipples (“Do you use your pointy nipples as telescopic antennae to transmit data back to Earth? / I bet you do, you freaky old bastard you”), every song is littered with glorious idiosyncrasies. Lesser men, too embarrassed by simple silliness to immortalise it on a proper record, would have redrafted these songs to lose the rough edges, killing their charm in the process. Not the Conchords. They even get away with stupid things like the old forgot-the-words gag (What’s wrong with the world today? / N-duh nuh-duh nay n-nay”).

Flight of the Conchords are joyously uncool, hiding their musical chops behind boyish giggles and warm self-deprecation. An ever-widening grin is the only response.

Flight of the Conchords - 'Bowie' played live: