“Surely you’re not serious.”
“I am serious, and don’t call me Shirley.”
Those two classic lines from the movie “Airplane!” best describe the debut album from the duo known as Heidecker & Wood. The Heidecker part of that is Tim Heidecker, best known for doing super oddball comedy on “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!”. The Wood is for Davin Wood, who is the music supervisor on that exact same show. Given the comedy pedigree of these two gentlemen, it’s easy to think that their teaming up for a music project should be really funny. At the very least, you’d expect it to be that odd sort of funny the TV show is best known for. The title is “Starting from Nowhere”, and the worst thing about it is the impossibility of telling how serious or non-serious it’s trying to be. The music they make is essentially soft rock, but these days is better known as yacht rock, a genre that is notable because it tends to be earnestly cheesy. Artists like Steely Dan, Christopher Cross, The Doobie Brothers, Michael McDonald and Kenny Loggins wrote and released record after record of this sort of music, which found a home amongst certain kinds of adults in the 70s and 80s that believed it to be really good stuff. Looking back on it now, the camp factor is through the roof – the look tends to involve bushy moustaches, Flock of Seagulls-type hair, bright pastel t-shirt and sport coat combinations, and every now and then a perm. In other words, this stuff is ripe for mockery – to the point where a rather funny web series called Yacht Rock got away with 12 episodes of parodying the lives of these artists. Now Heidecker & Wood are attempting to get away with 12 songs poking that same bear, but there’s just a little bit of mystery remaining as to whether this is legitimate comedy or respectful homage.
Heidecker & Wood whip out their best Simon & Garfunkel right at the start of the record courtesy of “Cross Country Skiing”, complete with the audience applause at the beginning and end of the song. A sprightly plucked acoustic guitar and the dual harmonies on every word strives for legitimacy, while the lyrics don’t really hint at any humor outside of some playful lines. The track concludes by finishing up a a cross country skiing adventure when the main character diverts from the main path and accidentally winds up in some hilly landscape. “Sliding down the hillside/these skis weren’t made for this”, they sing in perfect harmony. It’s worth about as much of a laugh as that time the dog stole the steak off the plate when that guy wasn’t looking. “Right or Wrong” is at its heart the theme song to an 80s TV show that never got made, complete with the smiling family members breaking out their best smiles while fuchsia-colored graphics insert their real names at the bottom of the screen. Take one part “Full House” and another part “Family Ties” and you’ll get the idea. “The crimson light of the morning light shining tall, as if in a dream”, is just one of the many descriptive nature images on “Grandest Canyon”, a tribute to the glorious beauty of the countryside. “Maybe a canyon’s just a canyon/and a man is just a man/and a canyon and a man can live in peace and share this beautiful land” is funny only in its sheer absurdity and nothing more. The horn section and carefree piano are just the beginning of where “Wedding Song” gets its gusto, as the sincerity and romance with which the line, “Well I hope there’s a preacher, cause I know there’s a groom” is delivered should tell you everything you need to know about the song.
Other tracks on “Starting From Nowhere” are more obvious straight artist tributes. “Life on the Road” naturally is about the weariness of touring, and one can’t help but think of Bob Seeger’s “Turn the Page” when listening to it. “Name a town/name a face/chances are I’ve played the place/get on the stage/put on your hat and do the same old friggin act”, Heidecker sings depressed even though the song itself has picked up in tempo. You may hear a little Jackson Browne on the album centerpiece “Weatherman”, which is ultimately what inspired the entire record. It’s a smooth 70s keyboard slow jam, complete with flute solo where the subject matter is a pretty bad car crash even though Heidecker seems more concerned about whether or not there will be a full moon that night (one of the more offbeat “funny” moments on the album). The acoustic “A Song for My Father” practically invites parallels to Harry Chapin’s “Cat’s in the Cradle”, though told from the perspective of a son carrying a love-hate relationship with his somewhat absentee dad. There’s a fair touch of The Eagles on “Right to the Minute”, and a blistering jazz sax solo that stands on a very even playing field with the most classic of soft rock saxophone solos. Then “She Left You” is one part Lynyrd Skynyrd’s “Tuesday’s Gone” and another part Joe Cocker’s re-imagining of “With A Little Help from My Friends”, the result being a reasonably solid facsimile that at moments can seem just a little too overblown. The same could be said for the 7.5 minute closing track “Christmas Suite”, which contains a whole host of cliches and relatively botched attempts at humor. “Children are the makers of our destiny/Children are our future too/Children are the key to the universe/Children come from me and you” is just one sample of a number of goofy platitudes that break down the walls between parody and sincerity and ultimately leave you thinking this whole thing was probably for comedic effect.
When Ween makes a song like “Joppa Road”, you’re fully aware given their history that they’re just messing around with soft rock tropes. That is a legitimately funny but also wholly legit soft rock jam. Then there’s a collective like Gayngs, making non-winking soft rock music, but very purposely ensuring that each one of their songs is at a tempo of 69 bpm. See them live in their white suits and sunglasses and once again there’s humor even though the songs are pretty damn good. As for Heidecker & Wood, if you can stand nearly 60 minutes of soft rock and don’t particularly care if it’s funny or not, “Starting from Nowhere” might be a good record for you. The absurdist humor that often permeates Tim & Eric on TV generates a lot of laughs from simply being awkward, and there’s definitely moments you can feel those same sorts of weird emotions on this album, just be aware it lasts for much longer and you may not be able to take it for the duration. And while there is that silliness and intentional absurdity, you can also hear very clearly that Heidecker & Wood have respect and a strong liking of the soft rock genre. It’s so easy to parody and pile on the layers of cheese/camp, but at one point in time all these yacht rock artists took the material at face value, as did their fans. Just because it’s largely bullshit now doesn’t mean it’s any less compelling or catchy than much of the new stuff you hear on radio everyday anyways. You’re not required to be a fan of Tim & Eric shtick to like “Starting from Nowhere”, and even if you are this record can just as easily pass you by. No matter if you’re listening for the throwback sound or the humor or both, the ultimate goal of a record like this is to generate a smile. Hopefully even the most heartless person can muster up something more than a frown.