Review Summary: "I told you I was freaky / you didn't believe me / I told you I was freaky / Girl, I do this shit weekly."
When it comes to musical comedy, few do it any better than acoustic-folk duo Flight of the Conchords. Ever since I first heard the sexy slow jam “Business Time” and the hilarious failed theme song for Lord of the Rings, it was obvious that New Zealanders Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clements possessed that very elusive skill – the ability to marry well-structured pop and genre exercises with deadpan, back-and-forth skits marinated in pop culture references and day-in-the-life observations. Their well-honed act struck the perfect balance between music and humor, the kind of combo that perhaps only Tenacious D’s debut has fully realized before.
Having seen the change in the Conchords from one season of their show to the next, however, it’s impossible to not notice a slight decline in overall quality. The jokes and comedic timing were all refined to a fine edge before the first episode of their HBO series even aired, giving longtime fan favorites like “Business Time” or “Jenny” the kind of spot-on witticisms they've mastered and making the uproarious interactions between McKenzie and Clements seem practically effortless. Given the pressure of writing new material and the constraints of a real deadline, it seems almost inevitable that the collection of material represented on I Told You I Was Freaky comes off as wildly uneven.
Too often here the Conchords miss out on the true appeal of their humor, masking their straightforward sarcasm and verbal jousts with genre parodies, like the faux-Black Eyed Peas’ of “Sugalumps” or the completely uninteresting title track, which never seems to know what it wants to be (oddball rap or steamy R&B joint?). Opening track “Hurt Feelings” epitomizes this frustrating trend, ruining some choice lyrics (“I make a meal for my friends, try to make it delicious / try to keep it nutritious; create wonderful dishes / not one of them thinks about the way I feel / nobody compliments the meal . . . I feel like a prize asshole, no one even mentions my casserole”) with undercooked hip-hop beats and an underwhelming chorus.
The Conchords are at their best when they retreat to their roots, such as on the acoustic ballad “Rambling Through The Avenues of Time,” where McKenzie’s joyous exaggeration of a “romantic” encounter is interrupted by Clement’s typically sarcastic questions. Even better is the R. Kelly-inspired “We’re Both In Love With A Sexy Lady,” a classic back-and-forth with the two playing off each other in priceless harmony until they realize they’re talking about the same lazy-eyed girl: “I think it’s hot / the way she looks left a lot / yeah? / Yeah.”
The underlying fault of I Told You I Was Freaky, however, is the disappointing quality of most of the new material. Most Conchords fans have already heard the Lonely Island-esque “Too Many Dicks (On The Dancefloor)” and “You Don’t Have To Be A Prostitute,” and both excellently written and produced cuts only serve to highlight the weaknesses in the other new material. “Demon Woman” has a typically superb Clements vocal performance but little else to recommend it thanks to a threadbare lyrical theme and run-of-the-mill rock instrumentation. “Fashion Danger” is a faceless slice of ‘80s synth-pop, and songs like “Friends” and “Carol Brown” seem even more anemic when placed alongside pre-HBO cuts like the cannibal ode “Petrov, Yelyena And Me” and the amusing divine orgy of “Angels” (although “Friends” does have one of the better declarations of friendship when Clements promises “if you kick my dick I won’t break your balls”).
Then again, this is still the same Flight of the Conchords, and it’s impossible to not enjoy even some of the wobblier tracks thanks largely to the duo’s irrepressible charisma and buddy dynamic. But coming from Bret and Jemaine, two undeniably talented musicians in their own right and topnotch comedians, I Told You I Was Freaky is a clear letdown for even the staunchest Flight of the Conchords fan. Perhaps next time the pair won’t be so quick to capitalize on another season and instead let their flair for “popular guitar-based digi-bongo acapella-rap-funk-comedy folk” rise to the surface on its own.