Written by Matthew Havilland
Tim Heidecker is no stranger to music. Beyond his cheeky jingles from Tim & Eric’s Awesome Show, Great Job! (whose live show featured a showstopping rendition of “Brownie Mountain”), Heidecker has been making records for years. While some are grotesque (Cainthology: Songs in the Key of Cain imagines politician Herman Cain as a messiah figure), his albums with Awesome Show! composer Davin Wood are good old-fashioned rock. However, they still seem more like comedy music than powerful records.
Heidecker’s newest is more legitimate, exploring country, Southern rock, and folk music while getting to the heart of American unhappiness. The first song brings us into suburban ennui with the narrator naming American frontiers and then saying he lives in Glendale, California. “When the flood comes, I’ll be up on the hill,” Heidecker sings among guitars, pianos, horns. “But when the big one comes, I’ll feel like a fool…” The humor is subtle enough that you might think he’s a cheesy country singer. But that’s just the beginning.
While most music about suburban ennui has transcendence or omniscient sadness (think Pink Floyd’s “Time”), In Glendale carries bitter angst. In “Cleaning Up the Dog Shit,” Heidecker sings about cleaning up after his newborn baby and his dog (yelling, “Yeah, on my weekend, now!”). That darkness manifests as murder in “Ghost in My Bed,” which sounds like morbid Mountain Goats stuff (“Now there’s a ghost in my cell,” he sings, “And I’m going to hell”). Another song explores working from home because you’re depressed, evoking Tom Waits in The Heart of Saturday Night and George Costanza’s answering machine.
Comedy musicians like “Weird Al” Yankovic are angry class clowns. While capturing their source material’s power (“Smells Like Nirvana” is electrifying), their snark is unmistakable. Heidecker immerses himself fully instead, creating realized genre songs. “Good Looking Babies” channels midnight folk, with rumbling bass, melancholy strings. If you weren’t listening closely, you might think Heidecker was being sincere. Rather than emphasized, humor rides in with subtle jokes, skewed singing, morbid imagery, or surprising vulgarity (“Have to borrow money from some goddamn friends,” he blows in “When the Cash Runs Out”). The songs keep straight faces.
Because he dives deeply into tone, the songs are powerful. In “I Dare You to Watch Me Sleep,” Heidecker sings about being anxious while lying in bed. His heavenly backup singers are relaxing enough to cradle you, while dreamy guitars build into haunting clouds straight out of the new Radiohead album. With its relentless cheer, “Central Air” captures the repressive materialism running through American culture. We’re angry, we’re hiding our despair, but we’re fine, we’ve got central air. The plaintive “I Saw Nicolas Cage” describes seeing the actor, hearing him on the radio, and then getting caught in traffic because of a car accident. Heidecker goes home and thinks about the accident that night, ending with, “I saw Nicolas Cage staring at me.”
While the album begins with country rocking, most songs are melancholy singer-songwriting. “Ocean’s Too Cold” describes the daughter who struggles to connect and her worrying father, with a wrenching, pragmatic ending (“But the odds are just not good enough”). But it’s really funny: melodrama, background hums, and McDonalds pastries. After all, the best satire works with emotional depth. Early Simpsons episodes got viewers emotionally invested, which made them laugh harder. Steve Carell’s powerful sadness made The Office gut-bustingly great. Heidecker makes you laugh because he’s working with deep personal wounds. Because of that, he’s devastating. And while even Springsteen romanticizes more than he represents, Heidecker gives us deeply felt repression. Moreover, the songs really groove.