I’ve given entirely too much thought to the following issue, something that will become abundantly clear as you read this. It seems that while most publications want to name the best of the decade, few – if any – of them want to address a matter of equal (if not more) importance: the album that most defines the decade. Thus the genesis behind this column.
Andrew W.K.’s I Get Wet is that defining album. Not the pinnacle, not the greatest, not any other synonym for best. No, it’s simply the most important album of the 2000’s because it’s a microcosm of everything that American culture has (and doesn’t have) to offer in these modern times. Lemme add that there are better albums in terms of pure criticism: Kid A is superior musically, Marshall Mathers lyrically and Funeral in both respects.
Since 2001, my mind has been debating with itself whether or not I Get Wet is actually any good. Some days, it’s the single greatest jock rock album of all time, one that constantly requires defense and explanation. And others, it’s simply the result of one man pulling down his pants and taking one, massive, steaming shitpile all over the entity known as music. (Note: the Metacritic score is a 64, basically a tacit admission that, generally speaking, no one really knows what to think about this album, whether it’s the greatest thing ever or the antithesis.) The record’s music, its lyrics, that fucking cover – it’s all designed to entertain, not convince. And while this piece isn’t about whether or not the album is any good from a critical standpoint (though that will be discussed tangentially, anyway), it is nonetheless a valid question within the context of its importance.
Let’s start with that cover. Beyond the ridiculous descriptions from the Advertising Standards Authority of “distressing,” “suggestive of drug use and violence” and that it “may frighten children and vulnerable people” lies a social critique the level of which SNL hasn’t reached in years. W.K.’s expression is that of an apathetic college student with A People’s History memorized, one who doesn’t bother to wash his hair or change his facial expression when his nose is gushing blood. He clearly just doesn’t give a fucking shit. And, yet, he wants you to know that he doesn’t care. “Look! I couldn’t give two rat fucks about anything! LOOK! Look at how much I don’t care!” screams the portrait. His disinterested stare boring a hole through your head also suggests that, while he’s nihilistic towards life itself, he nevertheless wants this particular image to be burned into the retina of history. He wants to be remembered for something but he doesn’t wanna have to work for it. So why not just take a picture after having been smashed in the face? If that doesn’t sum up my generation, nothing does.
Then there’s the music. The most obvious component is that everything has been multi-tracked into oblivion. Or, as Ryan Schreiber describes it, the album is an ” immense wind-tunnel attack of [a] clenched-fist maelstrom.” Sound is piled upon sound piled upon sound. One more layer and the the music would be a solid entity, a concrete wall that even Superman wouldn’t be able to crack. It’s as if W.K. just wants to shove this album down your throat whether or not you agree with it. This, however, is only a cursory reading. Below the adamantium surface lies a far more telling commentary. The album runs through 12 tracks in a blistering 35 minutes, less than three minutes per track with four songs below the average. Which, of course, is the perfect song average length for the A.D.D.-addled American child. Why should a song be any longer than that? Really, all we want are guitar riffs and hooks. We don’t require bridges or differing song structures, so why waste any time getting to the good stuff? And since no song has anything to do with any other and since they’re all the same, you can listen to one song and have heard the entire album. A three minute album? Perfect! Now I can enjoy an entire record, take a minute to tweet about it, and still have 56 minutes left to find new facebook friends I’ll never converse with in real life.
What is most telling about Wet is the fact that the lyrics found within are chillingly prophetic in terms of ideas, structure and W.K.’s delivery of them. A quarter of the song titles contain the word “party” and, obviously, are about the titular subject. [As a side note: If that hasn’t come to typify my alma mater, then this sentence isn’t written in English.] Beyond that, any given song title gives away what any given song is about. There is no underlying meaning to any of these dozen tracks, with the possible exception of “Ready to Die” which appears to be a discussion about life being important. At least I’m pretty sure that’s what it’s about. At any rate, the lyrics are also prophetic for another reason: every statement, every utterance, every bark made by W.K. is to-the-point without any superfluous or abstract language. Or thought, for that matter. And it’s all grunted or shouted. That sounds familiar. Yes, any lyric from Wet is perfect – and eerily so – for a Tweet (oh, do I loathe that term): “I Love New York City/ Oh Yeah, New York City” or “She looks good and it’s true/ The girl is beautiful/ She is beautiful” or “Watch what I do/ Because I really don’t care/ I really don’t care/ You’re never gonna go nowhere.” Simply put, no rumination is required in order to understand any notion, concept, whatever coming from W.K. It’s a splendid companion for a Michael Bay film.
Perhaps most bizarre is the track-listing itself: the songs are in an order such that their titles tell a story all by themselves. Guy goes to party; he parties “hard.” Guy meets girl who pushed guy away. Guy learns about love and life. Guy decides to dust himself off and move on. Guy goes to New York and has fun. Guys finds (new?) girl. Girl is “beautiful.” Guy parties again (with girl?), vomits. Guy has an entertaining night. Guy learns more about life, namely that one must never give up and must enjoy life to the fullest. It’s 21st Century post-modernism at its finest.
Whether or not Andrew W.K. is serious or a tongue-in-cheek joke has yet to be fully established. This, of course, doesn’t detract from the significance of I Get Wet. Instead, it simply changes the view: if the songwriting here is, in fact, meant to be taken seriously then the satire of American society found here is purely incidental (yet no less substantial), but if W.K. was joking then Wet makes a great case for him to be considered the greatest satirist of his generation. Either way, we as a people can’t be summed up any more aptly than:
Cause we will never listen to your rules
We will never do what others do
We do what we want and we get it from you
We do what we like and we like what we do.