By Joel Francis
From “Brand New Cadillac” to “Little Red Corvette,” no art form has had a love affair with the automobile quite like rock and roll. So while the subject matter for Andrew W.K.’s fourth album, “55 Cadillac,” is well-trod, his approach is surprising and fresh.
W.K. appeared on the scene in 2001 sporting a bloody nose on his album cover and urging hard rock fans to “Party Hard.” In the years since opened a New York night club, penned an advice column that was compiled into a book, produced an album by reggae legend Lee “Scratch” Perry, hosted a show on Cartoon Network and continued to turn out big dumb anthems like “Make Sex.” That said, few could have seen the side of Andrew W.K. he reveals on “55 Cadillac.”
Comprised of eight “spontaneous solo piano improvisations,” the album finds W.K. expressing himself on the 88 keys he started learning at age 4.
“55 Cadillac” opens where Neko Case’s “Middle Cyclone” – which features our heroine on the hood of a 1968 Mercury Cougar – left off, with the sound of crickets and frogs. Like a drag race, W.K.’s prize auto doesn’t start, but “begin.” Appropriately, we can hear the motor thrust and idle as pistons warm up on the first cut, “Begin the Engine.”
Though the performances are spontaneous, W.K. obviously put a lot of thought into tone and texture. “Seeing the Car” is suitably elegant, while “Night Driver” features an upbeat, galloping melody. The stately ballad “5” is the album’s most tuneful moment and “City Time” is choppy, reflecting urban stop-and-go traffic.
The tracks are joined by the sound of a car racing past and the album works as one long piece. The songs flow well, sustaining the mood without becoming stale, but despite the solid pacing it can easily become background music.
W.K.’s party rock persona doesn’t emerge until the opus’ closing minutes. When the flood of electric guitars enter on “Cadillac,” the closing track,” it sounds like a lost snippet of musical dialogue between Queen’s Brian May and Freddy Mercury.
Co-released on the Sonic Youth guitarist’s Ecstatic Peace! Label, “55 Cadillac” is the rare album that can be enjoyed by both Thurston Moore and Thurston Howell, III.