As the self-professed “almost-award-winning fourth-most-popular folk duo in New Zealand,” Flight of the Conchords may be ranked a little higher here in the States. The duo — Bret McKenzie and Jemaine Clement — are the funniest thing happening in whatever genre of music one would place comedy-music. With less bravado and fewer farts than The Lonely Island, a bit more coy than Tenacious D and less zany than Weird Al, FOTC are a couple of Kiwis who write clever songs about hurt feelings, semi-attractive women and robots. For the uninitiated, they’re a reborn Smothers Brothers, only even more socially awkward. And foreign-sounding.
The Conchords formed in 1998 at college in Wellington, New Zealand, with McKenzie and Clement mucking about in local comedy troupes and theater before getting serious about making funny songs. They spent the next several years crafting their sound/routine with regular appearances on Down Under TV, as well as spots on late-night TV here in America. In 2008, they put out the EP The Distant Future, which includes “Robots,” a dystopian look at the world when robots take over, extinguishing humanity once and for all (“we used poisonous gases/and we poisoned their asses”). The Distant Future went gold in New Zealand and won the duo a Grammy for Best Comedy Album in 2008. FOTC made enough of an impression with the debut EP and TV appearances to get a spot in HBO’s coveted original programming in 2007, with a self-titled show about the guys trying to make it big in New York City. The show, which usually featured a couple of song performances in each episode, was one of the funnier shows HBO has ever aired (I guess I should add in my opinion). The show featured plenty of great work from Kristen Schaal as a fan/stalker, Arj Barker as the duo’s friend and local pawn shop owner, Eugene Mirman as the landlord, Rhys Darby as the very funny Murray, the duo’s manager, Aziz Ansari as a racist fruit vendor, Patton Oswalt as an Elton John impersonator and Art Garfunkel as, well, Art Garfunkel (watch the episode “Prime Minister”). The show was on for only two years, but was nominated for multiple Emmys and generated a following somewhere between mainstream and cult. While the show’s end was tough for fans just getting into FOTC, the two albums that came after The Distant Future are terrific examples of FOTC’s insecurities and love for
Their 2008 self-titled album has been certified twice-platinum in New Zealand and features most of the songs performed on the first season of their TV show. Some highlights:
“FOUX DU FAFA” A light, breezy ditty sung mostly in French, but with no particular meaning. Clement starts by cheekily running through phrases one might find in a translation book, like “here is my passport” and “where is the library?” There are mentions of baguettes, Gerard Depardieu, and stereotypical French laughter. McKenzie takes over the next verse with a voyage to a supermarket, listing kinds of food (he calls fish “Jacques Cousteau”).
“THINK ABOUT IT” Performed in the same vein as Marvin Gaye’s “What’s Going On?,” it’s about tough life in the city, missing the point entirely. Jemaine Clement shines in this one, singing about people getting diseases from monkeys and sneakers costing too much: (they’re turning kids into slaves just to make cheaper sneakers/but what’s the real cost ’cos the sneakers don’t seem that much cheaper/why are we still paying so much for sneakers when you got them made by little slave kids/what are your overheads?).
“BUSINESS TIME” Originally heard on The Distant Future, this song gets a re-do on the self-titled album. It’s an ode to how long-time couples can still get down with sexy love. In a very Barry White delivery, Clement runs a narrative of why he knows there will be love-making tonight (Girl, tonight we’re going to make love/you know how I know?/because it’s Wednesday and Wednesday night is the night we usually make love/Monday night is my night to cook and Tuesday night we go and visit your mother/but Wednesday we make sweet, weekly love).
“BOWIE” A tribute to The Thin White Duke, “Bowie” mashes up “Let’s Dance” with “Space Oddity” and other Bowie hits and puts Lieutenant Bowie traveling through space, running into the McJaggernauts, smoking AstroTurf, and receiving transmissions from his nipple antenna.
The 2009 album I Told You I Was Freaky, though not as good as 2008’s album, is still really, really funny. Highlights include:
“HURT FEELINGS” Two rappers try to remind their fans and critics that rappers can get hurt feelings, too. (”I feel like a prize asshole/no one even mentions my casserole/you could’ve said something nice about my profiteroles.”) The duo reps for those who’ve been told their skull is oddly shaped, and reminds listeners that rappers cry gold-plated tears.
“I TOLD YOU I WAS FREAKY” The boys are going to take the month of August off just to get you hot in this weird, sort-of-’80s new-wave song. Lots of synth and herky-jerky vocals about getting down in some unique ways makes this one stand out. FOTC gets all nasty by getting dressed in snakeskin, selling their undies and having a three-way with ghosts.
“TOO MANY DICKS (ON THE DANCE FLOOR)” Who hasn’t had this annoying problem? A club number with some good bass, this one warns against having too many misters and not enough sisters. There’s also has a nice rap breakdown by Arj Barker.