“DD Review: Seth McFarlane – no one ever tells you.”

Score: 8.5/10


As usual, I walked into the library with one CD in mind to pick up (this time Metallica’s Black Album), and ended up fuming mad that I had to stop at the limit of 20. They just kept piling up, and swimming up the stream with many others was one I noticed as the Family Guy writer, Seth McFarlane. There he was — I’d recognized that huge Irish forehead, just like Conan O’Brien.
Like most “funny” people, such as Steven Page of the Barenaked Ladies, Seth McFarlane “has a tendency to wear (his) mind on his sleeve.” Of course, McFarlane, I guess, is a hard guy to judge objectively. If you’re remotely familiar with any of his shows like Family Guy, American Dad or The Cleveland Show, chances are at some point he’s pi**ed you off, or at least made you stare a hole through the TV for sheer television bewilderment. And well, I haven’t heard any commentary on this “Seth McFarlane album” from 2015, no one ever tells you — but still, the result was just, I’m gonna check this album out and try to be a smarta** about it.
And that’s what I’m doing, but not without the knowledge of the scant possibility that this project will fail to make at least SOME impression. Almost anything is better than music that makes no impression, but that’s definitely not PJ Harvey’s Stories from the City, Stories from the Sea, as pitchfork originally said it was. And even the recent album of fellow funnyman Jamie Foxx made an impression as well, but what I thought was, I have no idea if this guy is attempting to make real music, or passing parodic things off and see if people take the ridiculousness as earnestness (like talking about doing disgusting things with chicks, and stuff). As we all know, Foxx has paid his dues grappling with the music world over the last decade, from guesting on “Golddigger” to playing Ray Charles cinematically, so with him the album was a disappointment.
The Village Voice, a New York periodical founded way back in the day, stages every year for “best albums” what they call the “Pazz & Jop Poll” (probably the stupidest name for anything in quite some time) — but I got to thinking about this because, and partly after having changing the channel disgustedly after hearing New Kids on the Block on the radio today, that is a pretty good polarization of music’s non-rap categories. [1] They are each “black musics” (Ben Watson calls “pop” a black music, probably not erroneously, in The Negative Dialectics of Poodle Play) now essentially given over to whites in the propagation of hip-hop (to once in a while be reclaimed as black, a la Pharrell’s “Happy,” Cupid’s “The Cupid Dance”).
So jazz is ours (whitey’s) for now, until it’s retaken away, because McFarlane here has made a bona fide smooth jazz album, clearly in the vein of Frank Sinatra, and whose shining attributes, ironically, emerge for its very seeming lack of ambition to be anything BUT a Frank Sinatra album. It’s this lack of ambition that makes the melodic tectonics of McFarlane’s voice so stultifying and irresistible — it’s as if he’s paralyzed within love’s wake, and indeed it’s surreal, here, the lack of humor, and the DEFINITE disinterest in crowd pleasing.
In just googling the title, I’ve found that no one ever tells you is indeed McFarlane’s third musical effort, but I’m glad, because each of the prior two were in some way kitschy — one is a holiday album, and one with its title of Music is Better than Words just reeks of grin-laden bet-hedging. McFarlane here, with his cool blue album cover, seems to finally be courageously unveiling what is unquestionably a measurable talent, if not necessarily a SINGULAR talent, at least for hitting those tenor notes. But like I alluded to before — it’s the purity, the bareness, the sparsity that sells this thing — it’s like if prize fighting had an opposite that was just sitting there disavowing all ambition, or simply not knowing any, for knowing too well the crippling disillusionment of love. As for whether or not McFarlane has actually FELT some crippling disillusionment of love? I guess I can’t say for sure, and I’m not one to pry excessively into those things, I’ll let you decide. But again, part of the album’s value is its actual ability to weld to the style of smooth jazz, and guilelessly hit these tenor notes like nobody but… Frank Sinatra. I mean Seth McFarlane.
[1] Though the VV does include rap, mounting To Pimp a Butterfly number one of last year, similar to… any publication whose compilers heard To Pimp a Butterfly.

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