This article previously appeared on Crossfader
Genre: Party Rock
Favorite Tracks: “Music is Worth Living For,” “Keep on Going,” “Beyond Oblivion,” “The Devil’s on Your Side,” “You’re Not Alone,” “Give Up On You”
Andrew W.K. has developed a habit of showing up when we most need him. The first was upon the release of the legendary I GET WET, a balls-to-the-wall rock and roll symphony that blasted him to the pinnacle of cultural relevance, bolstered by a major label deal, a Saturday Night Live appearance, and an instantly iconic album cover. I GET WET came out came out around two months after 9/11, providing a source of perceived danger and hedonism that flew in the face of the hyper-conservative response by the FCC to those events, which eventually led off one of the weirdest, most fascinating times in music history.
For one reason or another, though, Andrew W.K. hadn’t been able to recapture the magic of I GET WET, arguably until now. YOU’RE NOT ALONE will not be anything close to the commercial hit that I GET WET was, but for those (like many of us at Crossfader Magazine) who find themselves, 17 years later, in the midst of a time that shares more than a few similarities with the year or so after 9/11, politics are trauma-inducing and inescapable. The millennial generation that grew up with I GET WET finds itself overworked, underinsured, and struggling, all while being taunted by a carrot-dangling class of stupidly rich baby boomers. Many of us have never felt so hopeless, and that feeling of hopelessness seeps into every aspect of our lives. A lot of us think on the surface that we deserve better than this, but (at least for me) in the back of the brain sits a voice that tells us that everything that’s going wrong in every aspect of our lives is our fault and that we aren’t good enough to overcome the adversity thrown at us.
On YOU’RE NOT ALONE, Andrew W.K. has arrived for the second time in which we’ve needed him. Just like us, he’s taken a few punches; his career suffered because of legal issues surrounding his music catalog, and last you probably heard of him during the Obama years, he was the keynote speaker at a Brony convention. But the God of Party Rock returns in full force with the one-two punch of “The Power of Partying” and “Music is Worth Living For.” The latter is, without a single doubt in my mind, the best song he has ever written. It has every bit of the bravado and strong aesthetic sense as every track on I GET WET, but the lyrics of the song repaint W.K. as using the bravado and symphonic grandeur of both his on-stage persona and his music to face his mortality and crippling self-doubt. We’re not sure how it’s going to go or what’s going to happen next, but we’ve never really seen this side of him before.
From there, he starts to take the listener on something of an emotional journey, guiding them with songs and occasional spoken-word interludes espousing a sort of rock and roll zen philosophy that is centered on accepting negative emotions not as obstacles, but as a chance to “make life more interesting” and “party with your demons.” The latter part of the record is something of a series of affirmations, the kind that hit with remarkable simplicity and require truly extraordinary individuals to really sell them.
I don’t want to get too much into what he has to say, because this is a journey that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense if not taken as intended. But here’s what I will say: the emotional highs and lows of this record, particularly the second half, are extraordinary. It’s not perfectly constructed (I could do without the plodding “Party Mindset”), but the trick that Andrew W.K. is consistently able to pull on listeners is that when you think he can’t get bigger, when you think he can’t rip open his chest any more, he does it. The heart of this album is in the instrumental “Beyond Oblivion,” a simple, vaguely Danny Boy-ish rhythm that starts small with just piano and eventually builds into the kind of thing that just makes you want to power-slide onto a slab of pavement while tearing your shirt open at the collar and just screaming. The lack of lyrics is what really sells it–-rather than listening to Andrew W.K. exorcising his demons, the tune forces the listener’s brain to insert their own, and for a few glorious minutes, we get to feel like what it must feel like to be so relentlessly positive.
I just can’t think of the last time that I felt like an album cared about me. I can’t think of a time when that ever happened. And every time I listened to this, I felt better. It reminded me of how I felt when watching the new QUEER EYE episodes—it made me crave self-improvement, but in a way that allowed me to accept myself for who I am. And there’s some things in common between Andrew W.K. and QUEER EYE, honestly. Both are making an effort, whether conscious or not, to redefine what it means to be masculine. Andrew W.K. was once a perfect picture of unbridled masculine energy, and for such a figure to let out a cry of this magnitude is just staggering. YOU’RE NOT ALONE is about solidarity on the most basic level, and as the world burns around us and so many of us waste away in the confines of the male identity, this record gives me hope that if we opened up to each other about all of the insecurities that manifest themselves, we could all at least feel a lot better about each other and ourselves. Please go listen to this album. If you let it, it will change your life.