Jemaine Clement, the brawnier half of the New Zealand musical-comedy duo Flight of the Conchords, claims his band didn’t set out to write jokes. "We wanted to play [music] before the comedy," he told Interview magazine. "And the first night they put us with the comedians." It’s hard to take this “failed artist” pose seriously, seeing how Clement and his falsetto-toting partner, Bret McKenzie, are well acquainted with quality self-deprecation: The premise of the band’s wonderfully understated HBO series is that the pair are hapless, deluded musicians, shruggingly unaware of their status at the utmost bottomest of industry rungs.
Still, Bret and Jemaine’s musical chops–the bedrock of any quality novelty-musical act–are very much real. Their self-titled full-length debut culls much of the work featured on their show. Cutting the script out all together showcases the two’s effortless genre-aping. "Foux Du Fafa," the album’s opener, is perfect fluffy ’60s French-pop, in which the pair bluff their way through three minutes of gibberish: "Beouf/ Soup du jour/ Le camember/ Jacque Cousteu!" "Think About It" is a superbly ham-fisted take on the overblown social conscious song; "Ladies of the World," an extended digression on cheesy stage shout-outs (Jemaine, losing his way a bit: "all you sexy hermaphrodites lady-man ladies…even you must be into you-ooh"). And "Boom," the duo’s take on early ’90s radio reggae, is nearly too real, frighteningly enough.
Some of the tracks are slightly different (assumingly older) versions than the HBO cuts, which almost upends "Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros," Flight of the Conchords’ take on battle rap. The bubbling, minimalist beat from the show is unfortunately picked out on an acoustic guitar. But Bret and Jemaine’s cliché-flipping is still priceless: "Other rappers diss me/ say my rhymes are sissy/ Why? Why? Why, exactly? Be more constructive with your feedback, please."
"Business Time" may be Flight of the Conchords’ crowning achievement. The duo rides a funked-up guitar riff–one that would most certainly chart with, say, Adam Levine on it, cooing earnestly–to a subversion of the sex jam: Jemaine, envisioning a future in the suburbs, dodges a coterie of heartbreakingly pathetic love-making roadblocks–recycling that needs sorting, parent-visiting, post-work-social-sports-team-practice-fatigue–to reach the jackpot. "You know when I’m down to my socks, it’s time for business/ That’s why we call it business time, ooh-yeah-eh!"
I realize I’ve been more or less just gushing about my favorite bits. There are missteps: "Mutha’uckas" is a hip-hop retread, and I don’t care much for the Ziggy Stardust-era homage "Bowie." But pulling off the high-wire act of musical comedy this well deserves an unabashed kudos.