Review Summary: Bo Burnham's new material for this album is markedly different from the older material he wrote in his bedroom, though not any less clever.2 of 2 thought this review was well written
Like most people, I started watching Bo Burnham back when he was just a kid in his bedroom posting videos on YouTube. His songs were funny on an extremely cerebral level; you had to listen to them multiple times to work out all the dirty metaphors stacked inside. Words Words Words
is his first release that doesn't feature material taken from those videos. Instead, it sees him writing songs for a live audience. If you don't understand how that's a change for Burnham, than you obviously have never found yourself hitting the replay button on one of his YouTube videos two or three times.
I wouldn't say that Burnham's dumbed himself down for Words Words Words
, though. After all, he does have two studio tracks here, "Words Words Words" and "Oh Bo," that are obviously intended to be played multiple times (though "Oh Bo" isn't particularly funny -- it verges on grating at times). And those songs are perfectly witty. Other songs in that vein, like "Ironic," have a much slower delivery, allowing audiences time to comprehend and chuckle. The difference is small, but noticeable.
One thing Burnham hasn't seemed to have gotten over is his tendency to write awful choruses. Songs like "What's Funny" feature a chorus of Burnham repeating, "What's funny? What's funny? Oh, what's funny?" until he's tired of saying it, at which point he simply stops. "Words Words Words" features a slightly better chorus, though it's not quite as catchy as it self-referentially implies it is.
Burnham's wit isn't gone, though. Songs like "Men and Women" are full of intentional misdirection, one of Burnham's strong suits. "Women are like puzzles," he declares in that song, "because prior to 1920 neither had the right to vote." He pauses before sighing, "Puzzles still don't." In "What's Funny," Burnham's dissection of his own comedy, he notes how essential that style is to his act: "If you're a musical comic... take a Viagra and slap 'em with a rock-hard... misdirection."
But while those elements of being an awkward, clever middle-class kid are still present on Words Words Words
, there's a new side of Burnham that's apparent. While earlier songs featured over the top self-deprecation, songs like "Art Is Dead" are full of self-loathing. In that song, Burnham laments about his newfound fame because he finds himself undeserving of all the attention. "We're rolling in dough while Carlin rolls in his grave," Burnham sings, with more than a hint of bitterness in his voice. And what about the fact that the budgets of his performances have skyrocketed? "I wanted my name in lights," he sings. "When I could have fed a family of four for forty f***ing fortnights." "Art Is Dead" is the album's most powerful track, though this sudden show of remorse seems out of place in the album and completely uncharacteristic of Burnham's faux-ignorant stage persona.
And one can't really listen to the album without taking note of "Rant," an anti-Christianity rap that showcases Burnham's disdain for his Catholic upbringing. It features some pretty clever wordplay, but it points out the hypocrisies of religion in a way that's been done before by better comedians (the aforementioned Carlin, for example). While Burnham's vitriol in "Art Is Dead" is justified, here it just feels like a piling-on, as though Burnham feels that to be a great comedian he needs to poke fun at Christianity, too. It's a point that's been made, and while Burnham makes it cleverly, it's not quite as incendiary as he seems to have intended.
As this is SputnikMusic
, after all, I'm not going to comment on the stand-up tracks that divide the songs, other than to say that they're full of Burnham's trademark wordplay, and are perfectly enjoyable for anyone who likes his music.
Ultimately, Words Words Words
is a very different beast from his previous efforts. Burnham on stage is very different from Burnham in his bedroom; he's angrier and more immediate. And while his barbs might not always hit their targets, Burnham's cerebral rhymes remain the most endearing -- and enjoyable -- thing about him.