Kleenex Girl Wonder: The Comedy Album  2LP   (Reesonable Records)

Release date: October 28, 2016

Bio: For Kleenex Girl Wonder, it’s been nearly 20 years of agony and joy, 20 years of stupid GBV comparisons when it’s obvious to anyone paying attention that KGW mastermind Graham Smith is the Ray Davies of his generation—except Smith watches the world go by on his screen instead of from a window. And now comes The Comedy Album. Clocking in at nearly 76 minutes, on double vinyl from Reesonable Records, it’s KGW’s defining statement, their magnum opus (magnum hopeless?). It goes emotionally deeper than KGW’s ever gone before—more desperate, more despairing—and yet it echoes all the great moments that have come before.

Not The Comedy Album as in a collection of jokes. The Tragedy Plus Time Album would be more accurate. Because even as Smith likes his melodies catchy and saturated with hooks, he likes his humor dark and buried in bleakness. You have to cry to keep from laughing.

And with 8,133 words of lyrics, it’s as much a novella as an album. And what words. It blows away even peak-era Elvis Costello with its endless puns and relentless rants (‘You’re just a liege, allegedly allegiant to a legislative fallacy. Ban the beguine, beleaguered bourgeoisie, pick your parapets and parakeets. Aren’t you embarrassed yet?’). It’s like Smith thinks if he keeps throwing words at his problems he’ll eventually find an answer—to love, to death, to the world and all of its problems. Which is to say The Comedy Album is about what it feels like to be too alive and too in touch with everything around you—unable to stop noticing the bullshit and the beauty, the shallowness and the depth.

So come for the concept, but stay for the songs. TCA has some of the greatest power pop you’ve ever heard (‘The Best Shape of My Life’). leaves Stephin Merritt in its embittered dust (‘Alone Indefinitely’). And check out the off-kilter electronic lope of ‘Kismet Cute,’ or the hyperspeed hardcore synthpop of ‘Cold Open,’ which is the sound of a man losing the plot, a 21st century mental breakdown—no longer able to empathize, no longer able to feel. It’s the way you to hate the world, then hate yourself for hating the world, then hate the world for making you hate yourself—ad nauseam, add nausea. The Comedy Album is the sound of someone taking in the entire US culture until their psyche implodes.

We’re talking about someone who rhymes ‘Geo Metro’ with ‘Chia Pets grow,’ who rhymes ‘irreverent’ with ‘dexedrine,’ ‘dribble down my chest’ with ‘feeling powerless.’ This is the work of a busy, brilliant mind that drops lines like ‘History repeats like a scratched CD of Gertrude Stein’s diaries’ or ‘my slo-mo shrug thinks it’s a gang sign,’ as if it’s the most natural thing in the world.

But it isn’t all clever wordplay. ‘The Wackiest Prank of All Time’ features the chorus, ‘Love can lift you up / like a crutch / so you can hover above / the chaos you came from,’ which are some of the truest, most insightful words ever sung about the subject.

Because in the greatest, most hilarious joke of all, The Comedy Album turns out to be the saddest, most tender record of Graham Smith’s long career.

Packing his album with idea after idea after idea at a time when fashion-conscious blank sonic bliss is all the (under)rage, Graham Smith is a man out of step, a man out of time, a man who never stops talking because he can never stop thinking, and the effect is intoxicating.

Compared to The Comedy Album, every album you hear this year will seem illiterate, unnecessary, and made by a corpse.