Album review: New Hamburger album is a meaty patty of class and distinction
"What is the worst thing about buying used toilets on Craigslist?" asks Neil Hamburger in a YouTube video called "Neil Hamburger — Funny Guy!" The answer: "Having to go over to Rob Schneider's house."
This is an example of the type of joke Neil Hamburger is known for. There's the question, and there's the disgusting answer, which usually involves a celebrity and is usually much filthier than the one quoted above. Go see Hamburger in concert, and you're likely to leave having heard the names "Red Hot Chili Peppers" and "Britney Spears" countless times. Limp Bizkit will probably be heavily discussed, even though it's now 2019, 20 years past that band's heyday.
Another thing: Hamburger is not a real person, but a comedian character played by a man named Gregg Turkington. The way Turkington presents Hamburger is as an old-school comic that somehow soured due to depression and alcohol abuse, a tuxedo-clad relic with a wicked combover who took a wrong turn at the Catskills in about 1961 and never recovered. Or something. He's miserable and unfunny, and that's what makes the whole deal transcendentally hilarious.
In any event, Turkington started putting out Hamburger albums of a different sort a decade or so ago, moving largely from comedic stand-up performances to bewildering musical collections in which Hamburger does disco songs about inferior garbage bags or country tunes about being paid in pizza crusts. They're not as can-you-believe-he-said-that funny or as hilariously patience-testing as his actual standup routines, but they actually manage to make the character of Neil Hamburger more real. In the world of the albums, Hamburger thinks it's a good idea that he makes these old-fashioned, ill-advised "celebrity doing music" records, and it's the commitment by Turkington that makes them work. These are records made by a character who thinks that the '70s are still happening, and John Travolta has a legitimate right to make and sell music.
The latest Hamburger platter is "Still Dwelling," which seemingly takes the form of one of those grab-bag records where someone picks a bunch of songs for an artist, and the artist duly performs them even though they don't really have any business doing so. "Dwelling" is incredible in the way that it revives deep tracks by people like Mark Eitzel or Paul Simon in new Phil Spector-like mono arrangements stuffed with pianos and horns, all in the service of a looney-tunes bad comedian who is even worse at singing.
The song "Everything's Alright" is a cover of the track from "Jesus Christ Superstar," done seemingly for no real reason other than the stupendous weirdness of the act, but it's made ten times more bizarre with the addition of cameos from Jack Black and Mike Patton, both of whom would never have any business appearing on an album from a miserable, unsuccessful comic past his prime. But there they are.
Later, an arrangement of Heart's "Crazy on You" begins with a marvelous cinematic introduction that sounds like it's going to lead into a great reinvention of the composition, but then Neil Hamburger starts singing out of key in his weird pinched voice about going crazy on you, and it then becomes about how much he doesn't understand what the song is about. Here, he literally seems to think the song is about going insane on someone. Yet the music is highly professional. It's reminiscent of song poems, the oddball mail-order records that used to be made by pro musicians for songwriters who weren't always completely mentally healthy.
Bottom line: "Still Dwelling" is the greatest album ever made. Okay, no, it's not, but if you think Neil Hamburger's whole deal is funny, give this a listen. It's another curious entry in one of the most curious discographies there is.
Artist: Neil Hamburger
Album: "Still Dwelling"
Produced by: Erik Paparozzi
Personnel: Gregg Turkington (vocals), numerous others in various capacities