The Lonely Island - 'Turtleneck & Chain' Album Review

  • Original publication date: 15 May 2011

It's all fun and games until someone gets nominated for a Grammy Award. Then it's downright hilarious.

The Lonely Island - Turtleneck & Chain album cover

For the trio who call themselves The Lonely Island, truth is stranger than fiction. Primarily writers for the long-running Saturday Night Live TV show, Andy Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer have released their second album as a comedy troupe, Turtleneck & Chain. From what started as a 'Digital Shorts' segment on the show has now morphed them into media sensations; their wacky, satirical hip hop songs finding a far greater audience across the Internet than SNL probably ever intended.

With song titles like 'Jizz In My Pants', Emmy Award-winning 'Dick In A Box', and now Grammy Award-nominated 'I'm On A Boat', the trio courted attention by poking fun at the genre's cliches, creating bizarre video skits, and somehow gaining critical acclaim in the process. Turtleneck & Chain follows a similar formula to 2009's hilarious Incredibad: provide a truckload of laughs, and make music videos that are guaranteed to spread like wildfire among your friends.

We Make Too Much Money For This Shit

The struggle with creating comedy skits like these is the visual aspect. Instead of performing their skits live for the 'Digital Shorts' segment on SNL, TLI would betray the show's format and create full-fledged music videos, posing as 'real' hip hop artists (rather than everyday guys rapping about mundane things). When paired with a video, the lewd catchy songs worked best because the audience could see the story, and although the trend continues, many songs on Turtleneck & Chain still work well as stand-alone parodies.

The layers of sarcasm, wit and fake machismo are a lot thicker this time round due to their increased popularity, definitely buoyed by the fact that they were nominated in an actual rap/hip hop Grammy Award category, and not a comedy one; a bit of irony not lost on them. Album-opener 'We're Back!' addresses the issue head-on, where verses alternate between excessive bragging about their importance in the rap industry and......erectile dysfunction and how small and deformed their penises are, all while the song's production values keep step with any mainstream hip hop album nowadays.

The ubiquitous lead single 'I Just Had Sex' (featuring R&B crooner Akon) is by far the album's highlight. Never has a song about the pure, unbridled joy of having sex ever been put to record in such a catchy, awkward manner. Akon (totally in on the joke) belts out a sing-a-long chorus, and the must-see music video features sexy Hollywood A-listers Jessica Alba and Blake Lively as Taccone's and Samberg's love interests. Incredibly juvenile yet incredibly witty.

Some memorable scenes from the 'I Just Had Sex' music video

Some memorable scenes from the 'I Just Had Sex' music video

And I Wrote You This Big, Sexy Hook I Think You're Gonna Really Dig

Mirroring the hip hop world, the celebrity guest stars on the album bring some much-needed variety to spice up the performances. Michael Bolton's scene-stealing appearance on 'Jack Sparrow' will endear him to a whole new generation of younger fans, whose radar the crooner probably had no chance of ever showing up on (unless it was their parents' collection of old CD's from the 80s and 90s).

Speaking of parents: previous Mother's Day homage from 2009, 'Motherlover', featuring close friend of the gang Justin Timberlake, appears on this album. It's a well-executed slow jam and a sequel to Timberlake's other contribution on Incredibad, 'Dick In A Box'. The former Mickey Mouse Club star shows his stage talents extend beyond singing and dancing, and his comedy act feels natural and infectious on camera for the Susan Sarandon-starring music video.

Nicki Minaj's feature on 'The Creep' breaks up the boys' club vibe

Nicki Minaj's feature on 'The Creep' breaks up the boys' club vibe

Nicki Minaj, the female rap phenomenon of the past year, appears on an anthem for all the creepy guys out there ('The Creep'), where she flips the gender script and provides her own viewpoint on creepiness. The only other appearance from a legitimate rapper is Snoop Dogg on the title track, who surprisingly does not seem to be in on the joke as he sleepwalks through a repetitive, mildly humourous track. There's also some unintended poignancy in 'After Party', featuring Santigold on the chorus, as the main character's existential crisis leads him on a vision quest up a mountain and seemingly everywhere in between.

You Must Think I'm A Joke

An effective parody needs to know how far it should take the joke before it gets tiresome. Thankfully all the 'songs' on Turtleneck & Chain are roughly under 3 minutes each, but there are numerous short hip hop-style skits which clearly scrape the bottom of the barrel for humour. Whilst this meta-move is probably a dig at hip hop's propensity for unnecessary filler material on a big-budget albums, it tests the patience of a listener going for an album-length comedy experience.

'Rocky' and 'Trouble On Dookie Island' are adequate self-depreciating narratives, but they don't match the quality of Incredibad's many story-related tracks that worked well (if not better) without a video. Album-closer 'No Homo' takes a phrase macho heterosexual guys say to make sure they're not coming across as gay, and amplifies the idea to ludicrous levels; one of the album's many raunchy 'did they just say that?' moments. Is it the ballsiness that makes it funny, or is it the quality of the satire?

Musical comedy albums depend as much on the delivery as they do on the material. Perhaps on the quality of their writing, the guys from The Lonely Island would have found some success in purveying parodies and skits through any number of genres, like the Weird Al Yankovics preceding them. But they have managed to weasel their way into popular culture with songs which are not only humorously-written, but faithfully mimic the beats, wordplay, and personas of hip hop. It's the combination which somehow does the trick. It's the turtleneck & chain, sippin' on a light beer.

Tracklisting:

  1. We're Back!
  2. Mama
  3. I Just Had Sex (feat Akon)
  4. Jack Sparrow (feat Michael Bolton)
  5. Attracted To Us (feat Beck)
  6. Rocky
  7. My Mic (Interlude)
  8. Turtleneck & Chain (feat Snoop Dogg)
  9. Shy Ronnie 2: Ronnie & Clyde (feat Rihanna)
  10. Trouble On Dookie Island
  11. Falcor vs Atreyu (Classy Skit #1)
  12. Motherlover (feat Justin Timberlake)
  13. The Creep (feat Nicky Minaj & John Waters)
  14. Watch Me Do Me (Classy Skit #2)
  15. Threw It On The Ground
  16. Japan
  17. After Party (feat Santigold)
  18. No Homo
  19. No Homo (Outro)

Release date: 10 May 2011