An epiphany: since first appearing on the pop music radar in 2001 with the release of his debut album, I Get Wet, Andrew Wilkes-Krier has chased the idea and image of a perfect party as well as producing a genuinely kinetic soundtrack for such an event with little thematic deviation (obvious exception being the piano-focused, instrumental album which appeared in 2009, 55 Cadillac) – but the catch is that, eventually, fans want a little more than a two-dimensional cut-out of an artist. Eventually, fans need to know that the music they’re loving wasn’t just impersonally manufactured and now finally (FINALLY!) Andrew WK has issued his dissertation on and about his party platform, You’re Not Alone. Now, there’s no question that the vinyl edition of this album commands attention and interest even before a stylus grazes a groove here. The double LP features blue and sea foam green plates which are both very eye-catching. After they begin spinning and a stylus DOES sink into them though, they prove to capture imaginations as easily as they captivated eyes.
As soon as “The Power of Partying” begins to open the A-side of the album, listeners will realize that, while the song may begin exactly how many listeners acquainted with Wilkes-Krier’s work expect (a mechanical voice repeats the word “Party” like a mantra as enormous and operatic blasts of strings which are so flawlessly tailored, they almost come off as synthetic in origin coupled with a perfectly senses-shattering drum performance), there’s no question that it is the work of a re-focused band. Here, the operatic nature of the instruments gives the sound an irresistible quality which informs the beginning of You’re Not Alone and will have listeners glued to speakers, and that hook proves to be absolute as energy from the opener boils over easily into “Music Is Worth Living For.”
There, Wilkes-Krier outlines battles hard-fought and won (“I bet you never thought you’d live to see the day/ Where we could play with joy and laughter/ I bet you never thought we’d make it all the way/ And we could stand forever after/ Well I guess we proved you wrong, and I guess we showed them all/ Paid our dues, getting up off the floor”), and arrives at the conclusion that, above all else, “Music is worth living for.”
I know what you’re thinking, reader, and you’re right – it IS cliché, but that Andrew WK is able to sell these ‘glorious return’ sentiments so well here speaks volumes about the singer’s quality as an artist and performer. Here, the singer just bleeds the sentiments he’s singing and that – combined with the big drums, chugging guitar and explosive song dynamics – can sell it to even the most jaded, gristled critic. It is genius.
After the one-two punch of “The Power of Partying” and “Music is Worth Living For” set their hooks into listeners, You’re Not Alone just keeps dishing more heavy-handed, light-intentioned anthem, one after another, and listeners will find themselves utterly disinterested in attempting to extricate themselves from the procession. “Ever Again” wails out a glorious mission statement (“People say that we’re born with a purpose/ And that we’re meant to make our dreams come true”) which is almost overshadowed by the song’s crushing rhythm figure, then “I Don’t Know Anything” manages to turn blind confusion into a party without featuring a shred of frustration or ennui.
The side closes with “The Feeling Of Being Alone” – a truly unusual plot point which suddenly expands the narrative of Andrew WK’s entire catalogue so easily that it’s shockingly unnerving. There, Andrew WK steps out of his musical persona for a moment and levels with his audience. The track is phenomenally candid (it opens with the words, “If you ever feel like something is very, very wrong – wrong with life, wrong with yourself – I understand. I have that feeling too but, in actuality, that feeling ISN’T wrong. That feeling is just being human”) and really succeeds at presenting the truth and nature of the singer’s muse.
In less than a minute of dialogue, the singer outlines the reasoning for what his seemingly indefatigable love of partying is all about so simply that listeners will walk away elated, feeling as though they just learned something about both Andrew WK and themselves: a common ground that they likely never considered the existence of before, but which draws them together in a single mind, here.
It is truly lovely and, after it ends, no listener will even consider the possibility that they won’t be flipping the A-side to the B. The breakthrough represented by “The Feeling of Being Alone” is a total game-changer.
…And after listeners have fastidiously changed the A-side for the B, they’ll already feel like something has changed – and the sudden shift in tempo represented by “Party Mindset” adds further fuel to that idea. Sounding a lot like a religious movement (maybe a bit like something out of the book of Revelations), “Party Mindset” is actually capable of making true believers on the right day as it confesses hard luck (“They told me feeling good was a crime”), but endures (“Here’s to feeling good all of the time”) and never even comes close to looking like it might stay down.
It’s a warm and solid beginning for the side, and that it jumps right back into the same sort of orchestral bombast immediately thereafter just feels right and good. “The Party Never Dies,” “Give Up On You” and “Keep On Going” all keep the life affirming sentiments swinging nicely and echo the album cuts of punk rock operas like American Idiot as well as (to a lesser degree) Home Street Home although not really the singles.
Even so, it’s impossible to argue with the results and, as “Keep On Going” sort of plays to the possibility that not all things are now or have ever been perfect in Andrew WK’s lifetime experience (vapor trails of remembering dark days, fear and the hard feelings which accompany all of those things flow freely between the beats which drive the song), listeners will find themselves energized by the singer’s enduring humanity. When it ends, the B-side proves to have stepped both above and beyond its predecessor, which will leave listeners ready for more.
Of course, after the high spire reached on the B-side of You’re Not Alone, Andrew WK immediately loses some ground as the C-side begins with some shadow examination in “In Your Darkest Moments.” There, Andrew WK attempts to once again acknowledge the darker side of the human experience and remind listeners to remain strong because the darker side of the human experience is necessary in order to recognize the light (or, “Besides, darkness and shadow/ Those are not our enemies/ They’re as necessary and natural/ As the nighttime is to the day/ The dark isn’t bad/ It’s simply the light casting a shadow”), and then proceeds along that path.
Now, more-so than elsewhere on You’re Not Alone, the C-side really begins to deviate from Andrew WK’s established norm as the singer plays around with a few stylistic variations which give the album as a whole bit more flavor (“The Devil’s On Your Side” rings as similar to a Bat Out Of Hell-era Meatloaf outtake, “Break The Curse” – with it’s down-low synths – could easily fit into the score of a cheesy slasher flick), but don’t really qualify as being essential to the overall experience for the album. Some readers may chastise me for complaining that the C-side in general is an entirely too “all-just-okay” thing but, stacked against the play of both the A- and B-sides, there’s just no other way to say it.
As thematically soft as the C-side runs, happily, the D-side returns strong to close out the set. As soon as the needle sets down into “Total Freedom,” listeners will be able to feel their eyes light up again after the comparatively soft C-side presentation, and that renewed energy endures just the right way with the explosive instrumental, “Beyond Oblivion” (which, it could be argued, rivals the “Chariots Of Fire” theme in its dramatic grandeur), and then finally closing out with one last enormous blast in the shape of the album’s title track.
While pretty obviously similar in tone and texture to the rest of the music on You’re Not Alone, listeners already recognize the ground the song is standing on by the time by the time it sets in and so really plays more like a dénouement than one last blast. Some listeners who have gone front-to-back with the album may curse this end for its tone but, really, it could also be seen as the soft close necessary to soothe nerves and let listeners feel the pull toward the top of the A-side again. It could be argued that You’re Not Alone NEEDS to end the way it does in order to leave listeners with a bit of serenity rather than a tempest which could somehow be seen as leaving the album open-ended.
After having run through You’re Not Alone from front to back and having attempted to take in all it has to offer, there’s no question that those who try it will need at least a second listen. They’ll find the turns that Andrew WK makes throughout this running are incredibly energizing, and they’ll want to find that feeling again, at their leisure. Now, like the singer himself, listeners will need to find the party all the time, every time; You’re Not Alone offers that beautifully – and listeners will be able to recognize that (to their joy) on first exposure.
(Skyscraper Music Maker/RED/Sony Music)