It’s pretty difficult to criticize a body of work that’s so earnest in its message of positivity.
It’s pretty difficult to criticize a body of work that’s so earnest in its message of positivity. When someone is as clearly dedicated to using his voice to help others as Andrew W.K. is, it feels wrong to nitpick the way he chooses to package his moral altruism. But You’re Not Alone, the first album the Pope of Partying has released in eight years, can sometimes be a hard pill to swallow.
Let’s rephrase that. It’s not that there isn’t a medicinal quality to W.K.’s new music but comparing the album to medication is dubious because of the vessel. Each track, whether instrumental prologue, spoken word interlude or motivational party anthem, feels like a capsule in a pillbox. He’s personalized every track to feel like an individual action item in a 16-step plan to self-betterment. But as a complete body of work, the entire album feels like taking a whole bottle of antidepressants at one time. It’s entirely too much of a good thing.
It may be petty to complain about an album being too chock full of aspirational aphorisms and nonstop riffs, but sitting down with the record, one would have to be a very specific brand of despondent for You’re Not Alone to be a beneficial experience. If the listener is already pretty well adjusted, the prospect of listening to an hour long mix of a grown man who dresses like Mr. Clean and sounds like a “hang in there” cat poster come to life is a difficult one. But if that same listener is already deeply depressed, the persistent sincerity in W.K.’s voice begins to sound cloying, like that friend who thinks all you have to do is drink more water to get over the latest job rejection letter in your inbox.
So, really W.K. has made an album for those stuck in the middle. This is uplifting music for someone trapped in a persistent funk, but not so far gone they’ve started a secret Instagram account to upload poorly photoshopped memes about suicide and Bionicle references. This is a step down from the ledge bro talk from a man who’s made being hyped nonstop into his own personal religion, and as such, there’s a lot of great party playlist fodder. Tracks like “The Party Never Dies” and “Party Mindset” are rather numbing taken back to back in the context of the LP but blasting through blown speakers in a crowded room and interjected by LMFAO or something, they’re pretty heartwarming slices of pop rock with a purpose.
This is an album that nice headphones will only ruin. Every song is mixed in such a way that each of the instruments and W.K.’s voice are sort of flattened together on a singular plane of exuberant repetition, the kind of full frontal attack genre mishmash that works best coming at you from multiple directions in someone’s basement then smacking either side of your ears in bed. The songs tend to blend into one another, as if someone put AOR, glam metal, EDM and, like, J-Pop, into a high-powered blender and then proceeded to shout self-help book chapter titles aloud over the resulting mix.
But that’s not to say they’re all cookie cutter dreck. Each track is pretty fun and straightforward, almost like a Tenacious D tune that isn’t joking, but there’s little moments of brilliance that stand out. The track “The Devil’s on Your Side” is not the most raucous or replayable, but it’s an engenius deconstruction of Satan indebted ‘80s rock expounding on the notion that your demons aren’t an external threat, but rather a piece of you that must always be contended with. Leave it to Andrew W.K. to do what decades of Christian metal have so utterly failed to do: make the listener root against the Devil.
If there was a way to improve You’re Not Alone, it’d be to trim the track list a little, or to have more variation in the album’s overall sound. But knowing how much care and inspiring decency went into the making of the album, those seem like trivial complaints. It’s good W.K. is making music aimed at helping people feel better in a world so miserable and bereft of hope. Maybe it’s more a reflection of the times that an hour of someone trying to do something nice feels so weird.