There are rock stars and then there are rock stars – excessive, larger-than-your-life personalities who transcend being mere musicians and singers. With unrelenting zeal, Andrew W.K. is determined to be the latter. From the outset, his debut album, I Get Wet, risks offending parents and Wal-Mart managers alike: The intentionally flinch-provoking cover portrait depicts a stream of blood gushing out of his nose and down his throat. (The result of a brawl? A cocaine binge? You decide.) Three of the songs have the word party in the title, the first time that’s occurred since the members of Poison, Quiet Riot, and Dokken had all their original hair. And by a bash, W.K. isn’t talking light beer and finger sandwiches: One cut is called ”Party Til You Puke.”
Other than offending retailers worldwide with that cover, W.K. (an abbreviation for his last name, Wilkes-Krier, although fans prefer to think it stands for Want Kicks) is on a musical mission as well. He wants to rescue rock from its current mental doldrums by reclaiming its original role: as rambunctious youth-rebel music for cheerfully smashing things up, and I Get Wet is his exuberant manifesto.
To accomplish that, W.K. ditches rap-metal and second-hand grunge – which constitute rock in 2002 – in favor of old-fashioned pomp and bombast. His album is an unapologetic barrage of WWF-ready headbangers filtered through hedonistic hair metal. The sonics are huge and bleary-eyed, a full-frontal assault of mosh-pit guitars, Hades-amusement-park keyboards, and reach-for-the-sky hooks worthy of the combative side of Elton John. Each chorus is a football-game shout delivered at full mob-rules throttle, built around slogans like ”Party! Party! There’s gonna be a party tonight!” and ”Let’s get a party going!/When it’s time to party we will always party hard!” and ”You better get ready to die! You better get ready to kill!” (And those are three different songs, mind you.)
You want subtlety? Go elsewhere. The time-honored ”na na na” chant is hauled out for one track, and it’s all too easy to imagine ”Fun Night” being appropriated by Anheuser-Busch and retitled ”Bud Night” for a future ad campaign. Even the album’s lone love song, ”She Is Beautiful,” is little more than a burly scream: to wit, ”She is beautiful! She is beautiful! The girl is beautiful!” In the great tradition of the Ramones, whose knowing dumb-fun anthems are echoed here, every track sounds nearly identical and rarely extends past the three-minute mark. Wherever he is, Joey Ramone must at least be tapping his foot along and smiling.
W.K. must know how ridiculous this all sounds, but he attacks the material with such fervor that you almost believe he means every word. With his hoarse, grainy voice, he sounds like the guy at the local garage who by night sings lead in a Motorhead cover band. The album has working-class catharsis and desperation stamped all over it, which makes sense given he’s originally from Detroit (and for a while relocated to New York, hence his rousing ”I Love NYC,” which should scare the smarts out of Randy Newman’s ”I Love L.A.”). For all the borderline rage that emerges from bellicose war chants like ”Ready to Die,” he’s capable of writing ”Got to Do It,” an empowerment theme for those who like to sip their beer from cans mounted on their baseball caps.
At any other point in time, I Get Wet would be laughable in its overblown silliness, an approach so ham-fisted it could feed several families on Easter Sunday. But you have to admire W.K. for extolling such twisted kicks. If I hear one more downtrodden Staind descendant, W.K. won’t be the only one puking. I’m not sure the solution is music that marks the advent of second-generation ’80s power metal, but it’s a start. What remains to be seen is whether anyone looks to rock for positive mayhem anymore. I Get Wet garnered much ink and respectable sales when it was released in the U.K. last fall. Whether anyone in America takes W.K. up on his wild-ride offer will be a telling sign.