Sunday, May 5, 2013

An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer Is Not Quite Money Well Spent.

The Good: Funny songs, Decent interjections between songs
The Bad: Nothing unique to this album, Available in a better form.
The Basics: An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer might well be better for those who do not own anything else by Lehrer or those looking to get into him, as opposed to fans.

As I soar through the library, albeit a small one, of Tom Lehrer's albums, I find myself impressed in general how enduring most of his albums are. After all, I first learned of his existence from his very political album That Was The Year That Was, which makes a number of dated political references. His earlier works, though, are much more universal humor and they are funny songs.

Unfortunately, on An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer, Tom Lehrer gives a decent performance, but one that does not hold up all that well on its own, especially when compared to other Lehrer albums. In truth, An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer is simply a live recreation of his album More of Tom Lehrer (reviewed here!). There are no additional tracks, no bonus features, nothing outside what a Tom Lehrer fan would already have if they owned that album.

With eleven tracks, clocking in at 41:21, An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer is very much an exploration of Tom Lehrer's warped and brilliant intellect. He wrote all of the songs and performs them solo with a piano. As well, he plays the piano on all of the tracks and takes a production credit on this album. As worthwhile, he provides "notes" on each song as he introduces each track comedically to an audience that eats it right up. He is funny, charming and a true American original.

And all of these songs would be spectacular if we didn't already have them in a different form. Sure, he is funny when he comments before several of the songs, but it's not enough to sell the album.

Lyrically, An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer is a collection of general comedy ranging from a satirical Christmas carol ("A Christmas Carol"), educational humor ("Oedipus Rex," "The Elements"), and political commentary ("It Makes A Fellow Proud To Be A Soldier"). He even throws in his brand of love songs, like "She's My Girl" and "The Masochism Tango." Every song garners a laugh (there is an audience clapping and laughing to prove it!) and after years of listening to it, there are still many smiles and chuckles to be had from Tom Lehrer on this album.

His outrage over commercialism is well expressed in "A Christmas Carol," when he sings, "On Christmas Day you can't get sore, / Your fellow man you must adore, / There's time to rob him all the more / the other three hundred and sixty-four. / Relations, sparing no expense, 'll / Send some useless old utensil . . . It doesn't matter how sincere it / Is or how heartfelt the spirit, / Sentiment will not endear it, / What's important is the price." He was well ahead of the curve with this dissatisfaction when he originally wrote the song, but the truth of that resonates to this day. Lehrer manages to be universal with humor, which is a very difficult feat.

He is also ahead of the antiwar movement and his politics are quite clear; he is an antinuclear pacifist. As a liberal in these trying days, it is refreshing to have comedy that appeals to my sensibilities. When Lehrer sings, "Our captain has a handicap to cope with, sad to tell. / He's from Georgia, and he doesn't speak the language very well. / He used to be, so rumor has, / The dean of men at Alcatraz, / It makes a fellow proud to be . . . a soldier" ("It Makes A Fellow Proud To Be A Soldier") it still makes me laugh. Lehrer's live presentation of it is accented with his unique, ironic intonations.

Perhaps the only truly unique aspect of An Evening Wasted With Tom Lehrer is his introduction to "In Old Mexico." Lehrer tells the story of the doctor who studied the gall bladder as a winding way into the song and it is cute.

This is definitely an adult album, though the language is very tame. Then again, Lehrer uses proper grammar throughout the entire recording, so perhaps the humor would go over young people's heads. Still, anyone over thirteen is likely to understand the references, like, "Let our love be a flame, not an ember, / Say it's me that you want to dismember. / Blacken my eye, / Set fire to my tie, / As we dance to the Masochism Tango . . . Bash in my brain, / And make me scream with pain, / Then kick me once again, / And say we'll never part" ("The Masochism Tango").

Lehrer's humor is well-presented with him on his piano, though there are moments his voice slips a little. Vocally, he manages through the most complex song ("Clementine") and he is articulate and clear throughout.

Instrumentally, the music is very simple musical comedy of a man and his piano. It is fine and the tunes are catchy, but it is not terribly sophisticated. And, again, it is nothing a fan has not heard before. Moreover, I loathe live albums where the laughter or crowd noises are prominent and this album has both . . . frequently.

As a fan of Tom Lehrer's works, I would be remiss in simply recommending this disc when there is the definitive boxed set of Lehrer's works. That is The Remains Of Tom Lehrer (reviewed here!) and it includes this album and the rest of his works in one place, making it an even better deal! Indeed, I recommend that instead of buying this as a separate album. It is a better use of the medium and somehow it seems less obvious alongside his other live album.

For other comedy albums, please visit my reviews of:
Family Guy Live From Las Vegas
Songs In The Key Of Springfield
Monty Python Sings


For other music reviews, please check out my Music Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2013, 2008 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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