What’s a chameleonic, genre-hopping musical wunderkind to do after releasing two hilarious cassettes cleverly designed to simulate a psychotic terrestrial radio world complete with demented commercials, ridiculous traffic reports, and pretentious-sounding critics? If you’re Portland, Oregon’s Unkle Funkle (Christopher Uehlein) you take your passion and talent for tongue-in-cheek musical mimicry and create a wonderfully twisted concept album about an exiled king sent back in time in order to defeat those who dethroned him. Not only does Supernatural manage to cleverly package some of Funkle’s most gifted and awe-inspiring melodious apery around the aforementioned farcical allegory, but it also represents a giant leap forward in terms of compositional quality and maturity for the artist who once utilized a graphic photo of his own genitalia as album cover art.
Supernatural opens with an eloquent narrator who immediately brings to mind Virginia Madsen’s disembodied head in the first minutes of the 1984 film Dune. The initial monologue sets the stage, informing us of the concept album’s basic plot and characters. This introduction is quickly followed by “Supernatural” which provides even further exposition. Uninitiated listeners expecting slap bass grooves and horns based on the “funk” part of Unkle Funkle’s moniker may not get beyond this title track, which also happens to be the only purely funk song on the record. By the third track, “In The Valley Of The Sun”, we’re unfortunately still taxiing the runway.
It isn’t until the end of the first third of Supernatural, when the pulsating synths of the song “Magic Woman” enter, that the album finally takes off. A gorgeous duet that pairs Funkle’s masculine voice with a feminine-sounding, pitched-up version of himself, “Magic Woman” doesn’t waste a single second of its four-and-a-half-plus blissed-out electropop minutes. The song pulls back and pushes forward stunning effects in between its powerful, sustained choruses in every conceivable combination without ever sounding repetitive or boring. From this point on, Supernatural gets much more interesting musically.
Much like a stand-up comic using celebrity impressions to enact absurd scenarios involving famous folks who would otherwise never find themselves in the same room as one another, Unkle Funkle uses technology and his myriad creative abilities to conjure songs in styles similar to his favorite singers and bands. “Can You Save Me” imagines Cher fronting the Vengaboys. ”Sometimes I Walk Around Like Sasquatch Now” is the track Rivers Cuomo wishes he could’ve written for any one of Weezer’s untitled records. And while Uehlein’s guitar work is stellar throughout, it is perhaps most exceptional on the pocket-sized psychedelic masterpiece “Spaceman”, which is dead-on Pink Floyd.
Like a square peg being hammered into a round hole, at times the album’s convoluted core story is manipulated and contorted in order to jibe with whichever direction Funkle’s musical whimsy takes him. But when the majority of songs are as much fun as those here, it’s hard to take too much umbrage with the minor continuity issues this causes with Supernatural’s story. What’s more important are the record’s instrumentation and vocals which aptly demonstrate Uehlein’s unique ability to slip into the skins of his musical idols and manipulate them like puppets in order to flesh out his satirical fantasies.
With Supernatural, Unkle Funkle has succeeded in breaking ties with the format of his previous releases and creating an album that has wider appeal without abandoning the qualities that make his music and sense of humor enjoyable. Unkle Funkle is one of those musicians who you can attempt to predict in which artistic direction they’ll go next, but your guess will most likely be wrong. Regardless, wherever Uehlein’s boundless imagination takes him, you can bet it’ll be original and entertaining.