The music video for Andrew W.K.’s single “She Is Beautiful” from his seminal 2001 major label full-length, I Get Wet, opens with the Pope of Positive Partying himself waking at the stroke of midnight, plugging a microphone into a component tape deck, slapping a CD in a stereo, then running around his house, making smoothies, and shout-singing while clones of himself play all the instruments featured in the song. The video ends with W.K. running down an empty suburban street into the night. One look at the gorgeous cover art for You’re Not Alone, which was created by the amazing Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell, and it would appear to show Andrew standing in a neighborhood strikingly similar to the one featured in the final shot of the “She Is Beautiful” video, except now Andrew is staring down an angry demon, his microphone tucked firmly into a pair of his trademark dirty white pants, and a look of thoughtful determination upon his face.
It’s safe to say at this point that, much like a superhero, Andrew W.K. appears when we need him most. I Get Wet was dropped upon an unsuspecting world almost exactly two months to the day after the events of 9/11. His sophomore record for Island, The Wolf, was released six months after the United States invaded Iraq, and Close Calls with Brick Walls came out during the summer of 2006 when nothing apparently cataclysmic happened, but, hey, superheroes don’t always need a reason to remind you they’re still out there fighting the good fight. Given where we’re at politically in America and overseas in 2018, you can project a lot onto that demon on the cover of You’re Not Alone, but it’s probably better at this point in the review to get into the tracks that make up W.K.’s latest studio album.
Andrew W.K.’s one-word mantra repeated over and over opens You’re Not Alone, and anyone even slightly familiar with W.K. will know immediately what that word is. On the minute-and-a-half long opener, “The Power of Partying”, amidst swirling synths, bombastic brass, and rousing strings and percussion, an image of a long-haired man, clad in a dirty white t-shirt and pants leading a triumphant army of optimistic fans of all demographics to victory over negativity, alienation, and fear is instantly implanted into the listener’s brain. This superb start is followed by the record’s first single, “Music is Worth Living For”, which provides the first of many welcome, vibrato-infused, extended, heavy metal, falsetto yells over face-melting guitars and keyboards. “But I guess we proved you wrong, and I guess we showed them all,” a hearty crowd shouts in unison just before launching into the song’s soaring, uplifting chorus. You’re Not Alone’s second single, “Ever Again”, keeps the fist-pumping energy high as W.K. confesses, “I’ll admit there were times I was terrified, I honestly thought I wouldn’t survive, but I learned a lot from my trip to the dark side, and from here on out I’ll keep my light alive.” Track after track it’s Andrew’s sincere-yet-positive attitude that shines through. His powerful voice and message resonate even when he’s admitting ignorance to things like truth, law, or how to face the world. It’s W.K.’s self-deprecation and blunt, almost comic honesty that endears him to the listener.
The first third of You’re Not Alone is concluded with a music-less monologue by Andrew that lasts just under a minute (two other monologues will make appearances during the course of the album). The short motivational speech is smartly given its own track number and title as listeners will either love and want to periodically return to it or skip over it and get back to the music. Regardless, “The Feeling of Being Alive” finds W.K. talking about the intensity of life and understanding the important difference between feeling like something is wrong and just being human. This is a bold moment and should not be quickly overlooked. It would be easy for an artist to try something like this and come off as preachy and/or corny. Not so for W.K., however, who has had his own advice column in the Village Voice and recently conducted a 50-state speaking tour. As such he’s become good at this sort of thing.
The back-to-back songs “Party Mindset” and “The Party Never Dies”, while distinctly different from one another in tone, each in their own way help to pull the focus back onto W.K.’s overarching message of finding positivity through partying. “Keep on Going” ends the record’s first half and features some lovely keyboard arpeggios and vocals from Andrew. Here things are pulled back slightly tempo-wise to reveal a surprising tenderness not yet heard up to this point on the album. The sibling songs “The Devil’s on Your Side” and “Break the Curse” are a fun pairing that come across as a bit of musical theater. “The Devil’s on Your Side” confidently promotes the idea that Satan’s your bud and is helping you succeed, while “Break the Curse” finds Andrew laughing at your gullibility. The beautiful power ballad “Total Freedom” has W.K. reminiscing longingly about the carelessness of youth with his remarkable voice hitting some of the highest notes of his career. The album’s title track closes the record with Andrew singing, “Your journey’s not over, it’s just begun, make your dreams, your destiny, and do what must be done.” A scorching guitar solo hits smack-dab in the middle of the song before the initial verse and refrain repeat and the entire ordeal is brought to a satisfying end.
Whether online or in a store, the kid who’s never heard Andrew W.K. and finds and purchases this record based solely on the breathtaking cover art and intriguing song titles is to be envied. Andrew W.K.’s message of stick-to-itiveness and acceptance regardless of who you are or where you are in life is an important one. It should also be mentioned that gender has been completely thrown out the window between I Get Wet and You’re Not Alone, and Andrew’s lyrics are all the better for it. Unlike his 2001 record, there’s not one song on this album that speaks directly to a specifically male/female relationship. Instead the characters are left largely ambiguous, and because of this it makes for a more widely relatable, empathetic listening experience. This is not a comeback. Andrew W.K. has taken his initial, highly original career blueprint, studied it, made improvements and delivered an album that’s part optimistic synth-metal bombast, part motivational speaker seminar, and all party. You’re Not Alone is for everyone.