JEWFACE, various artists
by Matthue Roth
The Reboot Stereophonic collective—also known as the creators of the magazine Guilt and Pleasure—have way too much time on their hands. And dispensible cash, too, it seems: The biggest question about Jewface, the new album released by the G&P collective, is who exactly is going to buy it. The original fans of the artists represented no longer with us, unless they’re languishing away in nursing homes, and the anonymous “hipster Jew” demographic that everyone seems to be chasing (you know the type—they have Manischewitz screensavers and life-size pinups of Amy Winehouse in the closets of their bachelor pads) might get a kick out of listening to this album once, or, possibly, displaying the cover in their CD collection. (The cover, by the way, is a gorgeous testament to album covers of old: the JEWFACE block letters sprawl across in an old-tyme font, with a stereotypical Jewish dude (“Jude”?), with wiggling pointed ears, a nose the size of Rhode Island, and a mischievous “look, mommy, I’m touching myself” look on his face.)
The cover’s tagline, which bills Jewface as “Perhaps the Most Offensive Album Ever Made” probably won’t hurt (or help) its reputation either. But the question at hand is: is the music any good?
The songs here can basically be split into two categories. This is also, I think, a workable theory with all Jewish humor—and, probably, all conversations involving Jews. To boot: “Cohen Owes Me 97 Dollars” is a funny, cruel and self-deprecating ballad, slow and paced around the lyrics, written by Irving Berlin and sung by a woman who sounds suspiciously like the grandmother on the TV show Brooklyn Bridge. The lyrics plod along to dull punchlines that anyone could have thought up; it seems almost trite for someone of Berlin’s talent to even stoop to writing.
And the song “I’m a Yiddish Cowboy,” while it predates *link* SoCalled’s Jewish cowboy song “You Are Never Alone” by exactly 98 years, doesn’t have any lines that reek of melancholy or daring like the latter’s chorus “Who’ll say kaddish for me?,” the former is a playful little romp through cliches of cowboys and Brooklyn Hasidim. Please don’t ever get this near the Frisco Kid; it’s the soundtrack equivalent of Elmer Fudd taking a jaunt on a comically-sized horse.
The thing is, none of these songs reach past surface parody. As a kid, I thought old movies and songs had a monopoly on cheesy lyrics and cliché lines. When I got older and discovered Cole Porter and Daschiell Hammett (he wrote The Maltese Falcon, dope), I realized that old-time entertainment wasn’t much different than contemporary entertainment—there’s the brilliant stuff, and then there’s Adam Sandler. And while Sandler had his Reign Over Me, Berlin had his “White Christmas” and “There’s No Business Like Show Business,” much this album plays more like Eight Crazy Nights. It might be terribly interesting, but that doesn’t mean it’s not terrible.