For a good few people in the UK, maybe the last time they came across Andrew WK was in 2001, when he appeared on the front of NME covered in blood and was proclaimed as something akin to the future of rock, thanks to some oddly bombastic, super-dumb party tunes.
That career didn’t quite happen, not least because most people who heard Andrew WK spent more time contemplating whether his enthusiasm was genuine or satirical, rather than partying as hard as he demanded. The thing is, though, that in the intervening years WK has interspersed a few more mainstream rock records with distinctly odder projects.
I suppose pre-fame connections with Wolf Eyes and the underground noise scene should’ve been a sign. But WK’s trajectory has recently managed to take in part-time membership of Current 93, collaborations with Baby Dee and production work for Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry, as well as parallel careers as a successful New York club owner and a motivational speaker.
Looking at “55 Cadillac”, you’d be forgiven for thinking it was a return to party metal. The cover shots involve WK driving a Cadillac, lying in the boot of a Cadillac and leaning out of the car window looking deranged. Only a subtitle, “SSPI”, gives a clue as to the real nature of the album: it stands for “Spontaneous Solo Piano Improvisations”.
And that’s pretty much it: Andrew WK working his way through forceful and very melodic jams on the piano in Baby Dee’s house in Cleveland. It begins with a car engine drowning out the crickets and distant dogs, but generally works at a sprightly, almost jazzy pace; we were immediately reminded of the Takoma pianist George Winston, rather than something austere and avant-garde like, say, Morton Feldman.
As a sceptic intrigued by Andrew WK, I have to admit it’s a lovely and propulsive record. As ever, I’m sure it’ll provoke a good few debates about what is serious/irreverent in his work, but what strikes me is that “55 Cadillac” actually makes sense as a link between his mainstream rock records and his more outre projects, in that it highlights the energy and zeal which he brings to everything he does. When he appears to be drumming on the piano during “Night Driver”, it seems to be provoked by a guile-less exhilaration rather than some calculated attempt to gain improv kudos.
And when the final “Cadillac” ends with a shrill, rudely unexpected chorus of guitars, WK seems to be making the connections explicit: he doesn’t separate out his musical ventures into the ‘serious’ and the ‘lightweight’, he just does what he does. This time, it sounds awesome.