Bo Burnham
Inside (The Songs)


2.5
average

Review

by notkanyewest USER (5 Reviews)
July 2nd, 2021 | 226 replies


Release Date: 06/10/2021 | Tracklist

Review Summary: There it is again, that funny feeling

All the time, people I know are asking me what I think of Inside. That sentence is the lede of this review not to position myself as some kind of authority (although obviously, I subconsciously think I am one, why would I be posting a somewhat contrarian review of one of the most well-regarded pieces of 2021 media otherwise?) I bring it up to say that Inside is perceived as catnip for a certain Type of Guy. Likes comedy, likes music, probably likes movies too. Maybe a little funny, maybe a little introverted and depressive, almost certainly White. The writer and podcaster Steven Hyden called it “Indie Hamilton”, and he meant it as a pejorative. I mean, none of my friends asked me what I thought of, say, The Lonely Island’s The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience. But Bo Burnham, with this special, has now achieved a certain kind of critical gravitas- his songs, which are sometimes silly and sometimes Very Serious and often both, are worthy of somewhat academic discussion outside of the writerly classes. I think Inside is good, and worth talking about. But I’m not so sure it deserves the reverence that seems to follow.

To be clear, that score up there just represents my view of Inside (The Songs) as an album. I’d probably give the special either a 3 or a 3.5, probably depending on whether or not I was going to have to tell someone I know who likes Inside the score. But I do think divorcing these songs from the always-engaging, immaculately staged visuals of the special flattens the underlying songs a bit and exposes what is probably my main criticism of Burnham’s work, or perhaps, the thing I wish more people would acknowledge about him: he’s a bit formulaic. Take the song “White Woman’s Instagram”, which opens as an amusing but somewhat surface-level paraodical accounting of the pictures found on the titular account. Then, we hit the bridge, and seemingly out of nowhere, Burnham gives his White Woman some unexpected depth as her manicured façade drops and she starts honestly addressing her dead mother. The effect of this is to (1) make a larger point that perhaps the White Woman’s superficiality isn’t completely the fault of the person as opposed to the platform itself, and (2) criticize Burnham’s/our criticism of this lady- see, she’s a person with feelings too!

Burnham wields these metacriticisms and misdirections effectively, but he kind of does it over and over again. And when those devices are directed internally, people tend to buy them wholesale (ostensibly positive but ultimately vacuous comments like “lol, did this dude really just have a mental breakdown and pass it off as a comedy special?” make me want to jump out a window) as opposed to acknowledging that he’s using the same performative techniques as he does in his more outwardly comedic songs. I appreciate these moments (let’s just say everything from “30” through “All Time Low”) as creative ways of staging real feelings, but I just can’t buy that they’re completely unfiltered reflections of them.

I think that’s why my favorite moments on the album go in one of two directions. The first is complete absurdity, like “Bezos I” and “Bezos II”, where Burnham serenades the ever-influential CEO with a super-catchy synthpop ripper and dancefloor strut, respectively. His offhanded and utterly straight-faced “Congratulations!” on “II” makes me laugh every time, and I think part of the reason is that he lets the joke stand on its own.

On the other hand, I think when Burnham tries to tackle our internet-driven dystopia in a more pointed way, it doesn’t work as well. “Welcome to the Internet” is well crafted, but is he really making a novel point in observing, in 2021, that having access to all the world’s information on demand and platforming all of our interpersonal interactions through social media perhaps hasn’t been that great for our collective psyche? “That Funny Feeling” fares better in that it just lets its string of uncanny modern indignities speak for itself, over a plaintive acoustic guitar strum. But at the end of the day, it’s really just another entry into a string of modern indie songs doing the same thing: Father John Misty’s “Holy ***”, The 1975’s “Love It If We Made It”, Lana Del Rey’s “The Greatest”. I’m not sure if I like Burnham’s take any better than these.

The second mode Burnham occasionally operates in that I love is on the complete opposite end of the pendulum, where there aren’t really any jokes. Of course, I’m talking about “All Eyes On Me”, which, on a pure songwriting level, towers above everything else here. It’s the one song from this album I can see myself having on playlists going forward. And I think Burnham knows this too- as I’m writing this review, Burnham has posted “All Eyes On Me (Song Only)”, a version that omits his mid-song monologue about onstage panic attacks and his subsequent attempts to return to performing, on Spotify. “All Eyes On Me” sort of sounds like a Life of Pablo era Kanye song, or like a more introspective Post Malone. “Get your ***in’ hands up,” he intones. Later: “Hands down/pray for me.” Unlike the rest of the songs on Inside, it’s unclear what this song is actually about. It’s probably a little bit about Burnham’s relationship to live performance, a bit about his anxiety, a bit about living Inside and on the internet during a time of pandemic. You can really get lost in it, and more importantly, Burnham actually gives you the chance to do so.

Because it’s not a song, a very important bit from Inside is excluded from this album. It follows the micro blues ditty “Unpaid Intern”. On the album, the song stands alone. But in the special, something interesting happens after the song, which ends abruptly after a really brief, jarringly hilarious scat solo. Burnham starts by reacting, in the style of a “____ reacts” YouTube video, to the song he just did. He’s a bit embarrassed by it. Then, a new window appears and he starts reacting to his reaction. Then, he reacts to the reaction to his reaction. It’s Burnham’s self-reflective modus operandi laid out as clearly as ever, in all its often fascinating, sometimes exhausting glory. At one point, he mutters to himself, “self-awareness doesn’t absolve you of anything.” He’s right.


user ratings (137)
3.6
great
other reviews of this album
whitecastle142 (3)
Inside (The Songs (Only)) is a collection of clever, catchy, intermittently funny songs by and about...

JefferyBigglestein2 (1.5)
This barely counts as music....



Comments:Add a Comment 
notkanyewest
July 2nd 2021


122 Comments

Album Rating: 2.5

This probably would have been a more useful review to post a couple of weeks ago, but then again, I probably would have gotten more shit for it too. It's has been living in my head for a while and finally had some time to put it down

Ryus
July 2nd 2021


25705 Comments

Album Rating: 1.0

nice

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Slex
July 2nd 2021


12250 Comments


Epic meme

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normaloctagon
July 2nd 2021


6513 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

Take this well deserved pos, you deserve it

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ghostalgeist
July 2nd 2021


502 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

this was a really interesting review actually, i was engaged throughout. pos

rabidfish
July 2nd 2021


6914 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

comedy

music



a couple of concepts Burnham seems to struggle with



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BlushfulHippocrene
Staff Reviewer
July 2nd 2021


3772 Comments


Am decidedly Not White, but the special caught me at the right time. Think Bo using a global pandemic to frame a broader discussion about, like, collective (but also at the same time very personal) agoraphobia is far from novel, but really clever nonetheless. My instinct is to hate this -- I'm the same, I'd only really be willing to listen to 'All Eyes on Me' outside the context of the special -- but overly cynical takes on rym bother me as much as the '“lol, did this dude really just have a mental breakdown and pass it off as a comedy special?”' ones (I get it, though, does suck), and I can't deny Bo's doing... something that hits hard in the moment.

BlushfulHippocrene
Staff Reviewer
July 2nd 2021


3772 Comments


Appreciate your well-written take, though. Think you verbalise a lot of what I don't like about the songs. They're all things I can look past, but, and I'd argue Bo does some of this stuff (especially the discussion about sincerity) waaaayy better than artists like The 1975.

fogza
July 2nd 2021


3006 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

As someone else said, this is a very engaging review, but are you ABSOLUTELY sure you're not Kanye West?

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brainmelter
July 2nd 2021


7574 Comments

Album Rating: 2.0

hard pos

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anat
July 2nd 2021


4404 Comments


this review is well-written and completely fair. i enjoyed the special for what it was but i'm not about to sit down with just the songs.
i will say i don't enjoy the bezos skits, they seem like they want to do what nick lutzko does but lutzko's delivery is much better, both musically and comically

Funeralopolis
July 2nd 2021


14570 Comments


I love the songs from this but I'm not sure they work as a whole, as a comedy special. The songs aren't that funny but some are really catchy and fun. I have no idea what I would rate this. I like listening to a few songs much more than as a whole special.

Atari
Staff Reviewer
July 2nd 2021


26852 Comments


Didn’t finish the special but I keep getting White Woman’s Instagram stuck in my head lol

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Funeralopolis
July 2nd 2021


14570 Comments


Check out 'welcome to the internet' it's the best song imo.

widowslaugh123
July 2nd 2021


3084 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

I like this album



Great review btw

Kompys2000
Contributing Reviewer
July 2nd 2021


6436 Comments

Album Rating: 3.5

Oh thank God I can finally stop wondering if I need to finish my half-written review of this, excellent work.



I agree with the large majority of your criticisms even though I do like the album a lot, although I will say "That Funny Feeling" is miles better than all 3 of the songs you compared it to, especially "Love it if we made it" which is the worst song of whatever year it came out

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LeddSledd
July 2nd 2021


6155 Comments


still debating whether or not to watch this

i thought Bo Burnham was funny in middle and early high school but haven't seen much of him since and don't know if I would now

Egarran
July 2nd 2021


24757 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0 | Sound Off

Best covid documentary yet



Can definitely see why it can be exhausting though.

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Trebor.
Staff Reviewer
July 3rd 2021


58170 Comments

Album Rating: 4.0

y'all too cynical

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fogza
July 3rd 2021


3006 Comments

Album Rating: 1.5

"I will say "That Funny Feeling" is miles better than all 3 of the songs you compared it to, especially "Love it if we made it" which is the worst song of whatever year it came out"



Really? I thought that song was fantastic and this album is horrible. tbf I haven't watched the special, I just listened to the tracks, but they're horrendous out of context



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