If you listen to his weekly “Office Hours” podcast, it quickly becomes obvious that, yes, Tim Heidecker is a comedic actor, but he's also a guy with a deep appreciation for loose-limbed, bummed-out singer-songwriter stuff from the '60s and '70s. He's just as likely on that show to do an impression of the disgraced conspiracy theorist Alex Jones as he is to speak at length about, say, the merits of “Music From Big Pink.”
Heidecker has long been a songwriter and musician — in fact, he had put out albums long before he found success as an Adult Swim absurdist with shows like “Tom Goes to the Mayor” and “Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job!” — and he's made plenty of music that one could consider “comedic.” For instance, he's done albums centered around topics like urine fetishization and the brilliant leadership of Herman Cain, just to name a few of his wilder musical impulses. But with 2016's “In Glendale,” Heidecker began to let more of himself shine through. There was plenty to chuckle at, but the funny moments sat shoulder-to-shoulder with sincere expressions of emotion.
His latest — and best — record is called “What the Brokenhearted Do …,” and it finds him making a sort of concept record about a guy who's barely getting by after a significant breakup. Inspired by right-wing trolls who had spread rumors online that Heidecker's wife had filed for divorce, he found himself writing a bushel of tunes in character. It's an actorly thing to do, but it's also nothing that, say, Ray Davies didn't make a career of.
As with his last record, the songs here are well-written and melodic. His singing has gotten less mannered, and there's little in the way of ironic detachment. Here, even though Heidecker's not spilling his guts, one gets the impression that he probably has had his heart broken in the past, and he's using that experience to help get himself in the right state of mind.
“It should be illegal to be so cruel to me,” Heidecker sings on the cowbell-aided opener “Illegal.” It's a funny line, but it also carries a measure of truth. When someone you love hurts you, it can feel like an assault, and Heidecker homes in on that feeling pretty accurately, here.
On first single “When I Get Up,” Heidecker has fun juxtaposing the bubbly pop feel of the music with the depressive hook of the chorus. “When I get up,” he sings, “all I wanna do is go to bed again.” He follows that line with a falsetto “Go to bed again,” as if he's his own backing singers.
The record is produced by Foxygen's Jonathan Rado to sound just like a '70s album, with its dead drums, hyper-melodic basslines, and piano-heavy mixes, and the production suits the music. The songs vary quite a bit — one minute, it's the surf-y “Insomnia,” with its hand claps and Muppet-like backing vocals, and the next, it's the piano waltz “Coffee's Gone Cold,” which finds Heidecker lost in a haze of misery. “I'm all alone in my loneliness,” he sings.
It's good stuff, all the way through. Heidecker's voice works best when he's singing quietly, and there are moments that feel a bit thrown together, but “Brokenhearted” makes the case that, eventually, a nice, lush Tim Heidecker record might come along that is funny and sad and everything else, and it will just be a plain-old knockout without any “comedian” baggage. He's nearly there already.
Tony Bennett reviews music for the News Tribune. He can be reached at email@example.com.
Artist: Tim Heidecker
Album: "What the Brokenhearted Do...”
Produced by: Jonathan Rado
Personnel: Tim Heidecker (vocals, guitar, keyboards), other guests