By Melissa B.
Can a record that relies as heavily on current events as Harry Shearer‘s Can’t Take A Hint stand the test of time? Political humor is almost ephemeral, and the political climate and players mercifully change so quickly. Songs about Herbert Hoover, for example, are so rarely sung today, and sea shanties about the Great Fire of London have fallen out of favor. So how does one approach a record in 2012 that has songs about the 2008 election, the 2010 Deepwater Horizon oil disaster, and the Iraq war? If this album had arrived two years ago, it might have been cutting in its satire. At this point, however, it feels a bit creaky.
Look, I know that albums take time to make. By the time the track is written, recorded, and pressed, the 24-hour news cycle has moved on to another bit of shiny. My parents had a comedy record about the Nixon administration when I was a kid that I listened to over and over though I had no idea what it was about (we didn’t have a lot of records, okay?). It wasn’t until I was much older that I realized who Nixon even was, and still wasn’t sure that it was funny.
Which brings us to Can’t Take A Hint. The musicians gathered for it are stellar: Steve Lukather, Jeff “Skunk” Baxter, Beach Boys/Brian Wilson musical director Jeffery Foskett. The guest vocalists are also amazing, including Dr. John, Jamie Cullum, and Fountains of Wayne. The lyrics are biting and insightful. It’s just not . . . timely.
There are things about Can’t Take A Hint that I love. Fountains of Wayne lend honey sweet harmonies to the brilliantly named “Celebrity Booze Endorser.” The lovely Rob Brydon gives voice to the BP executive who “wants my life back” after the oil spill in the Gulf Coast and Shearer supplies a nice bass line. The Motown-esque “Trillion Dollar Bargain” features soaring vocals from Alice Russell and Tommy Malone in a skewering of the cost of the Iraq War.
“Autumn In New Orleans” is simply gorgeous and perfectly evocative, with world weary vocals from the sublime Dr. John. It is just magnificent. It pairs nicely with “Cold Is To The Bone,” another New Orleans jazz-influenced outing with Charlie Wood and Danny Thompson.
“Deaf Boys” is unsettling, as one would imagine a song about priests who molested deaf children would be, though it is an upbeat, a capella, Gregorian Chant-inspired song. “Joe The Plumber” sounds so much like a “Weird Al” song that I had to check that it wasn’t. Again this begs the question, “Does this stand the test of time?” Did someone need to record a song about “Joe the Plumber” in 2012? Between “Joe The Plumber” and “Bridge To Nowhere” with its wonderfully creepy Sarah Palin impersonation it is like a time capsule of 2008. These must have killed on a podcast, but on a CD they leave one with a bit of a head scratch.
Jane Lynch turns up for “Like A Charity” with lovely sweet vocals. They are the perfect counterpoint to the venom of the lyrics about celebrities that are known for charity works in Africa with little follow up. She really is a national treasure, that Jane Lynch.
When Shearer takes the lead himself, the results are interesting, like on “Touch My Junk.” A song about the TSA is always made more interesting with the addition of Ned Flanders’s voice entreating one to touch his junk.
Can’t Take A Hint is like a time machine. If you can get past the issue of the songs being about things you might not ever want to think about again (Sarah Palin, pedophile priests, Abu Ghraib) and that they were timely a few years ago, it’s not terrible. The music is often good (though sometimes a bit too Studio 54) and the vocalists really fantastic. It’s just a little too late.
Can’t Take A Hint was released by Courgette Records through The Orchard on August 27 and can be ordered from their website.