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Andrew W.K.

55 Cadillac

Rating: 3.5/5.0

Label: Ecstatic Peace!/ Skyscraper Music Maker

Andrew W.K. is a musical paradox- he appears to be a one-trick pony, writing songs about the various stages of partying, but his background and training is deceptively academic. Aside from being a bombastic multi-instrumentalist, he is also a classically trained pianist. It’s an interesting career choice for a man who could be performing recitals, to instead smash bricks into his nose for album cover photo shoots. In the eight years since the release of I Get Wet, Andrew W.K. has managed to expand his repertoire and as blasphemous as it might sound, he’s reached some semblance of maturity. The days of “Partying Til You Puke” have given way to covers of Gundam Wing songs, and even more incongruous, an album of New-Age piano improvisations.

55 Cadillac is an album of piano suites composed about, and inspired by, Andrew’s vehicle- the eponymous Cadillac. As chintzy and gimmicky as it sounds, 55 Cadillac shows a level of nuance and versatility in W.K.’s compositional ability, and perhaps more surprisingly, shows a complicated sense of cohesion that only few artists can maintain with such an ambitious project.

The album opens with “Begin the Engine,” starting with the whispers of nighttime that segue into an engine turning over, before W.K. launches into an elegant and rapid piano figure, finally escalating to somewhat simulate the sound of an engine revving up. If it wasn’t clear beforehand, titles such as “Night Driver,” “Central Park Cruiser” and “City Time” highlight W.K.’s love of his vintage automobile, but they also hint at the tone of the album: reflective, suggestive, and observant. “Seeing the Car” has a more jaunty rhythm about it, and manages to capture the excitement of a new vehicle with nothing more than a deceptively simple piano line and shifting tempos.

The success of 55 Cadillac hinges on W.K.’s musicianship, which manages to make the tools at hand more emotive than they might be, had he written lyrics for them. “Night Driver” starts off cool and collected, but at the end his piano work takes him to the lower register, and as the pace increases, there is an air of tension and discomfort. The beauty of this composition is that because it is instrumental, it begs that the listener draw conclusions and form the story in his or her head without any overt guidance.

55 Cadillac’s “story” takes a turn for the worse in the latter half of the album, with “Car Nightmare” managing a more somber tone, heavily suggestive of some sort of tragedy or personal failure. The baritone scale is applied more heavily than on any other portion of the album, though the tension the song builds is relieved by the lighter, more treble-based tone in the last minute. Album closer “Cadillac” takes this mood and tears away with it. Beginning with a measured mid-range piano loop that brightens as it progresses, there are several emotions layered in the simple piano track. It is one of the most responsive and affecting moments on the entire album, and it ties W.K.’s ambitions and his talents together in a serene package. As “Cadillac” soars into tranquility, it is suddenly shaken loose by arena-rock guitars clashing violently with powerful synth lines that create a divine and operatic finale, offering a perfect counter-point and an earned and finite finale to this grandiose affair. It is a moment of necessary overtness, without becoming excessive.

55 Cadillac is a drive through the city at night, with the lights reflecting in the windshield. It is elegant, stimulating, and full of twists and turns. Ultimately the ambition of the project is validated through W.K.’s talents for more conventional musicianship. 55 Cadillac manages to be a sign of a more accessible Andrew W.K., while still maintaining his passion through different channels. His skills and his ambition are like his car- vintage, refined, and guaranteed to turn heads.

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