Tim Heidecker has become a modern day Andy Kaufman. His television, commercial, and movie work is both completely insane and grounded in total sincerity. The characters he creates may be disgusting, ruthless, idiotic creatures, but you never once doubt their genuine nature, or Heidecker’s devotion to them. Because of this, it makes it hard to know when he is being serious in real life, or what his real life even is.
So, when it comes to his musical side project, Heidecker and Wood, a joint project with long time Awesome Show musical collaborator Davin Wood, you have to approach the music with a kind of dubious caution reserved for snake handlers and schizophrenics. Are you going to be taken in by the joke, thinking that Heidecker has gone the way of many comedians-turned-musicians (e.g., Steve Martin, Eddie Murphy) and tried for the legit music career? The material is good, after all. Really good. Both Heidecker and Wood have an amazing ear for melodies. Their first album, Starting from Nowhere, was a kind of ode to ’70s soft rock giants like Gordon Lightfoot and Paul Simon, and they nailed the quiet acoustic sound of the era. It’s very easy to see why some fans were confused by the album. Then, you listen to the lyrics, and realize there’s more to it. The album also put those ’70s heroes on blast for their vague, overly poetic nonsense-lyrics that never really stand up to close examination. Still, the joke wasn’t that clear to everyone. Was it funny because of the at times silly lyrics? Or, was it funny because of the entire concept behind the band in the first place? There were, as always with Heideceker, a lot of levels in play.
Their new album, Some Things Never Stay the Same, shifts focus to, as Heidecker called it in a recent CoS interview, “medium rock” of the ’70s (think Doobie Brothers, Loggins & Messina, etc.). And, not only is the music even better somehow, but the joke is a little clearer. The joke is the bands that Heidecker and Wood draw inspiration from, but, again, you can tell there is honesty and reverence. It’s not just some “Weird” Al parody. There are different layers, and all of them fantastic.
The music on Some Things Never Stay the Same is focused, catchy, and dynamic, not just something slapped together for comedy’s sake. Heidecker and Wood have a gift for musical mimicry. Stand-outs include the upbeat, rocking pro-drug opener, “Cocaine”, the Chicago/Doobie Brothers tribute “This is Life”, and bad boy jam “Getaway Man”. “Cocaine” could be a Pusswhip Bang Gang (the fictional jam band on Awesome Show) track, or even something from the Grateful Dead, all snare-tight harmonies and Warren Zevon pianos. Heidecker rescues Zevon’s riffs from Kid Rock, and music fans everywhere should be thankful. “This is Life” is such a perfect take on a Michael McDonald or Chicago track that if you were to lay McDonald’s swallowed tenor over the mix, the result would be seamless. The electric piano, full horn section, and restless bass line fit that rich delivery like a glove. “Getaway Man” is a kind of Springsteen-esque jam complete with saxophone solos and a gruff delivery from Heidecker, as he sings about his job as the “getaway man”: “I drove a tank into my high school/ And I picked up the chicks that I want, that I want/ Drove down, got us some milkshakes/ And we sitting outside watching the evening sun.”
It’s in lyrics like these where Heidecker and Wood shine most, never over the top or cheesy. The humor is subtle (a change for those only familiar with his TV or commercial work), and that’s why it works. They’re not singing about how hilarious the ’70s were, or how crazy drugs are, but instead fitting the lyrics into the worlds of these music take-offs. It’s as if they’re covering totally unfamiliar B-sides from totally familiar bands. Except, when you listen closely to the lyrics, you realize that they are, indeed, vague nonsense. The gospel jam “Salvation Street”, for example, opens with Heidecker singing: “I was talking to a preacher friend/ We were talking about the end/ And what we all must do/ He was sayin’ I need to pray/ Get ready for judgment day/ Told me the end was coming soon/ And then he told me, ‘There’s a place we can go/ Will you meet me? Will you meet me at Salvation Street?’” Those words combined with piano, organs, and a small choir makes sense, but really it’s just kind of silly.
As on their first album, Heidecker and Wood use purposefully vague lyrics and pitch perfect music tributes for Some Things Never Stay the Same. The music is cleaner and tighter, and the lyrics let listeners in on the joke a little more clearly without sacrificing their methods. These days, Heidecker’s comedy has moved toward playing himself as either an asshole (in his stand-up act) or as a kind of clueless, confident goof (in TV and web series work). Either way, though, it’s always subtle. He becomes more like Kaufman with each passing day, and his music is no exception. As with their first LP, a lot of his fans may be turned off by this LP, but it won’t be because of the humor. They simply might not like this type of music. But, like most of Heidecker’s work, the enjoyment comes from close attention and nuance. Heidecker and Wood will not disappoint the patient, and Some Things Never Stay the Same is one of the best parody albums you’ll find, as long as you’re willing to dig.
Essential Tracks: “Cocaine”, “This is Life”, and “Getaway Man”