Thursday, July 3, 2014

"2776: A Levinson Bros & Rob Kutner Presentation"



Once upon a time, in the year 2776, an alien from space (Martha Plimpton) came to Earth and visited the President of the United States (Will Forte) and his ill-fated bodyguard (Aubrey Plaza). After announcing her plans to destroy the planet, we join the alien and the two White House staffers on a magical journey through America’s history to try to convince the alien to reconsider.

That’s the basic premise of “2776: A Levinson Bros & Rob Kutner Presentation,” and when we stick to that basic storyline - taking a guided tour through our nation’s story for a (sometimes) musical visit to notable events, eras, and figures - things are a lot of fun. It’s those times we stray from the plot that muck things up. In true American form, the producers have decided to go full-out super-sized, grabbing every random celebrity they could to jam into as many songs as possible, and as a result things sometimes get dragged out. The CD boasts an Apatow-ian 28 tracks that could have easily been reduced by a third and still remained a great project.

The songs are fun, witty, and span a vast array of styles. From operetta to techno it’s all here and our stars tackle the genre they’ve been assigned with gusto. We check in on Forte, Plimpton, and Plaza every few tracks to keep the plot moving and see how things are going and when Paul F. Tompkins joins them for the ride as George Washington, he instills the perfect amount of presidential smugness. When he and Forte team up for the “Battle of the Centuries,” trying to prove their respective moments in time are better, it’s the ultimate battle royale between cockiness and cluelessness.

Patton Oswalt brilliantly appears as God, a bit weary of being demanded to bless America, and The Sklar Brothers are a perfectly auto-tuned fit as the chosen ones recounting the nation’s obsession with sports. “Stop the Presses” laments the fate of print media with scathing precision and you’ll get a kick out of hearing the four figureheads of Mount Rushmore complaining about the newest addition to their monument.

Highlights for me included the brilliant therapy session between the North and the South (both voiced by Maria Bamford) as moderated by - who else? - Jonathan Katz. Hearing Dr. Katz once again doing what he does best was exhilarating and Bamford makes the perfect foil for her alter ego. I can’t think of anyone more suited to welcome immigrants to Ellis Island than Triumph the Insult Comic Dog and you haven’t lived until you’ve heard NPR’s Nina Totenberg freakin’ go for it on “Us v. Rock n' Roll.” 

And then…there were the clunkers. Songs about the flu’s point of view, a mole-man, droids, zombies, and taking a nap stood out as glaringly out of place. As much as I adore Ed Helms, Eugene Mirman, Ira Glass, and Andrew W.K., it pains me to confess I wouldn’t have been upset if their contributions had been left on the cutting-room floor as well.

But then…then we come to my one exception to the rule. Reggie Watts teams up with Right Said Fred and Dr. Mayim Bialik (yes, you read that correctly) on what turned out to be my favorite track of the album. Yes, I know, it doesn’t technically have anything to do with the main plot of the album, but it’s a song so good, so funny, so…everything…that I had to let it slide. Right Said Fred has a time machine that Reggie Watts would like to use…but only on one condition. It’s absolutely hilarious and I lost count of how many times I replayed it.

All in all, I like 2776. There are so many various genres and styles represented, there’s bound to be something for everyone. Some songs I initially didn’t care for grew on me with repeated listenings and the ones I enjoyed from the start I enjoyed even more. As for the others….well…that’s what the creator of the “Skip” button intended. 

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