Published Feb 27, 2018Casual listeners may be forgiven for forgetting about Andrew W.K. After his third album (2006's Close Calls With Brick Walls) was released in Japan and South Korea only (with only a rare vinyl pressing initially available Stateside), Andrew W.K. retreated from his hitherto mainstream arc, releasing instead a string of oddities including but not limited to: a cover album of music from the Japanese Gundam series; an album of "spontaneous solo piano improvisations" (2009's eye-opening 55 Cadillac); and the usual collection of B-sides and outtakes packaged with Close Calls when it finally hit U.S, shores proper in 2010. In short, 2018's You're Not Alone is something of a return from the wilderness for the famous party-rocker, and, while it's a huge pleasure to hear him pick up where he left off, this isn't the overwhelmingly triumphal return one might have hoped for.
In both production and intent, this is clearly the long-lost followup to 2003's The Wolf, with the sprawling, messy weirdness of Close Calls left firmly behind in favour of a glossy, hook-focused approach clearly meant for mainstream audiences. This is not the problem. It's the plodding, overlong tracks and undercooked songwriting that deflates one's excitement here. It lacks both the unbridled creativity of Close Calls, as well as the lean, visceral impact of I Get Wet, his electrifying 2001 debut.
There are some euphoric moments here nonetheless — the epic, multi-tracked vocal finish to "Ever Again," and the unrelenting drive of "I Don't Know Anything" for instance, or late album highlight "Total Freedom," which effectively rises above as well. But then there's "Party Mindset" (arguably the album's centerpiece), a mid-tempo ode to revelry that, drenched in mild-mannered Beach Boys-style vocal harmonies, couldn't be farther away from the glorious hedonistic energy of I Get Wet.
The track kicks off a bloated midsection that the album never fully recovers from. Many of these tracks have opening moments that show promise, but they just don't deliver, and it's a shame. This is perhaps an album Andrew W.K. had to make, a career reset after a long absence meant to reintroduce him to a new generation of fans — and he's frankly as likeable as ever here, an undeniably interesting and unique artist. Hopefully You're Not Alone is a stepping stone towards future excellence. (Sony)