- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Flight of the Conchords

Flight of the Conchords

Sub Pop

The Flight of the Conchords has made a brilliant career out of failure.

The duo — Kiwis Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement — once billed themselves as “New Zealand’s fourth most popular digi-folk parodists.” Such mordantly witty loser shtick catapulted the duo from the Wellington coffeehouse circuit to global hipster celebrity as the stars of their own HBO comedy series last year.

The show chronicles the pair’s efforts to make it in New York — a daunting task for two aspiring novelty musicians with a manager so musically clueless that he thinks Daft Punk is a person.

The Conchords worked most of their repertoire into the 12 episodes of the first season of the show, so the songs on their first full-length studio album will be familiar to fans.

Sometimes they felt integral to the plot; other times they were tacked on as enjoyable but superfluous set pieces. Even though the two won their early success as a mock-folk duo — two guys sitting on stools and strumming acoustic guitars — the songs work better with the ranging sonic palette afforded them by the recording studio.

“Robot” is a good example. It’s about the triumph of robots over human civilization in “the distant future — the year 2000.” The amusing conceit of the song is the deadpan struggle of Mr. McKenzie and Mr. Clement to stay in robot character, as well as Mr. Clement’s dead-on impersonation of the synthesized human voice closely identified with Stephen Hawking.

On “Bowie,” the Conchords offer a glimpse of how a shared affection for music might have inspired them in the first place. On the show, a spectral David Bowie (as portrayed by Mr. Clement) offers career advice to Mr. McKenzie in a series of dreams.

This was the thin but amusing pretext that enabled the pair to air their sendup of Mr. Bowie, which lovingly skewers the singer’s entire oeuvre in a mere three minutes and 16 seconds.

The track, “Hiphopopotamus Vs. Rhymenoceros,” shows off the Conchords’ rap personas.

Mr. McKenzie (aka the Rhymenoceros) raps the lyrics, “If you rap like me, you don’t get paid.” True enough, the duo’s excursion into hip-hop shows little familiarity with the genre. Their parodies fare better when the object of their affectionate derision is folk, psychedelic rock, funk and new wave.

The best Conchords track by far is “Foux du Fafa,” a kind of nonsense French-language song sung in the style of a Serge Gainsbourg bossa nova. On the show, the Conchords use a date with a couple of young women from a chichi cafe as the occasion for a hilarious take on the French new wave, complete with remakes of classic scenes from such films as “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg” and “Band of Outsiders.” It’s easily the funniest sequence in the series, and the song, unlike much of the Conchords’ material, stands on its own.

Fans of the show will enjoy these well-crafted versions of Conchords songs. Anyone looking for an introduction to the band would do better to watch the HBO show on DVD or check out clips of Conchord performances on YouTube.

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