Andrew W.K.’s unabashed positivity is infectious on ‘You’re Not Alone’
You’ve already read the headline to this article, and from that, you know that I’m writing today about Andrew W.K.’s fifth album, “You’re Not Alone.”
But before we get there, I want to talk about late-19th-century Russian literature.
In 1877, Leo Tolstoy opened his novel “Anna Karenina” with the following phrase: “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.”
If you pay enough attention to my reviews, you’ll see that I sort of approach music the same way. Most of the albums I love are the ones that wrestle with pretty weighty, negative emotions. Meanwhile, I often pan the most positive ones as being like all the other positive ones. “Happy albums are all alike,” right?
Well, maybe not. Sometimes, there are rare cases, like this new record by Andrew W.K., that are ridiculously positive, but not in a garish, cloying way. Instead, W.K. has something interesting to say here.
You probably know of W.K. as the rock ‘n’ roll goofball who, early in his career, mostly just sang about partying. In fact, the self-proclaimed Party God mentions partying in something like 100 percent of his songs (that’s by no means a scientific statistic).
But there’s something integral you need to understand in order to appreciate W.K.’s music: He doesn’t mean “partying” the same way the dudes in LMFAO do. There’s no hedonism here. For him, “partying” is a synonym for constantly and joyously celebrating what life has to offer.
It’s all very Zen. And on “You’re Not Alone,” W.K. delves deeper into his self-help-by-partying philosophy deeper than he previously has.
It’s almost difficult not to look at this album as an extended self-help record. I mean, just look at the title.
“I Don’t Know Anything” is a hard-rocking tribute to, well, not knowing anything, and overcoming that feeling.
“I don’t know what to think, / I don’t know what to say,” W.K. sings in the verse, before getting to a remarkably triumphant chorus.
“Yeah, but that’s alright, / That’s OK, / I don’t know anything,” he exclaims.
And something about the way he says it makes it seem like he’s right.
On the album’s bombastic second track, “Music Is Worth Living For,” W.K. explores the power of music, feeling almost like it comes from a higher power, and how it’s one of life’s great joys — which is something you probably feel too, at least if you’re the kind of person that voluntarily reads music criticism.
And I get that the positivity might start to sound a bit Sesame Street-ish, especially when laid out on paper like this, but somehow, W.K. is able to avoid that feeling for the most part. I think the reasons for that are two-fold.
First, W.K. doesn’t act as though life is nothing but positivity. Songs like “The Devil’s On Your Side” are all about how life is filled with negative moments, but that these moments are necessary for a full life, as they teach lessons that cannot be learned otherwise.
W.K. acknowledges that even he — the Party God, of all people — has negative moments. But, once again, “You’re Not Alone.”
Second, the music is just damn good. If you strip away all of the hokey self-help stuff — and some of it gets pretty hokey, especially on the spoken word tracks — you’re left with a record much in the same vein of acts like Bruce Springsteen and Meat Loaf.
It’s good old-fashioned, American, theatrical rock ‘n’ roll. Which is why Andrew W.K. was able to melt my cold heart and make me love a record that’s actually about happiness.
Reach Patrick Kernan at 570-991-6386 or on Twitter @PatKernan.
Album: ‘You’re Not Alone’
Artist: Andrew W.K.
Label: RED, Sony
Best Songs: ‘Music Is Worth Living For,’ ‘I Don’t Know Anything’
Worst Songs: Any of the spoken word segments