CD Review of Strange Weirdos: Music From and Inspired by the Film “Knocked Up” by Loudon Wainwright III

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Strange Weirdos:
Music From and Inspired by the Film “Knocked Up”
starstarstarstarno star Label: Concord
Released: 2007
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Some listeners may have found the news that Loudon Wainwright III was being tapped to provide the score for Judd Apatow’s latest film a little surprising; sure, Wainwright’s biggest (only) hit is the novelty tune “Dead Skunk,” but on the whole, he’s got a reputation for being a literate, bracingly honest songwriter, while Apatow supposedly has his mind in the gutter.

Neither of these generalizations tells the whole story, of course. Apatow, aside from having a refreshing fondness for R-rated comedy, has a gift for deft characterizations and exceedingly smart and tender humor. He’s also got a knack for imbuing somewhat outlandish (read: movie-worthy) situations with the kind of easy identification that keeps people buying tickets. Wainwright, for his part, is very good at wedding his pointed observations about the human condition to dirty jokes and filthy language (for proof, look no further than 1995’s “IWIWAL” or 1997’s “The World,” the latter of which features the immortal line, “The world is a sandwich of shite / Every day, you take another bite”).

A match made in heaven, in other words.

And it gets better. Wainwright, who has been on a winning streak (artistically, if sadly not commercially) since 1986’s More Love Songs, tapped fellow superstar-in-a-perfect-world Joe Henry to produce Strange Weirdos, and the pair assembled a studio crew that included Greg Leisz, Van Dyke Parks, and Patrick Warren to bring the songs to life. Admittedly, none of the participants – including Wainwright and Henry – are exactly household names, but as any self-respecting music lover could tell you, albums of smartly written rock music don’t come with pedigrees much better than this.

Henry’s production is predictably impeccable; although you wouldn’t guess right off the bat that this set was produced by the same guy who was behind the boards for last year’s wonderful I Believe to My Soul compilation or Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint’s The River in Reverse, that’s pretty much the mark of a good producer. Henry also contributes on the songwriting front, co-writing “You Can’t Fail Me Now” and “So Much to Do.”

Oh, the songs – they’re uniformly stellar. All the normal complaints regarding Wainwright – his topics of choice are rather narrow, he’s occasionally not as funny as he tries to be, his melodies can be somewhat dull – will apply here if you aren’t a fan, but there are a lot of good reasons why he’s been making music for several decades, and Strange Weirdos adds to the score. And really, how much can fault can anybody really find with a song cycle about parenthood that features a line like “You’re toothless / But you’re ruthless”? Here’s hoping the gonzo box office success of “Knocked Up” translates into similar commercial good fortune for Wainwright and Henry.

~Jeff Giles