Tim Heidecker: What the Brokenhearted Do - Album Review
Tim Heidecker’s best release is also his most off-base.
Ever since the beginning of On Cinema, a wonderfully self-indulgent YouTube series that briefly spun off into a full-length courtroom satire, Tim Heidecker has been on a creative peak most aren’t aware of. The nature of the Tim and Eric co-creator’s comedy has never been categorized as “normal” or “for the masses,” but even in the strange days of the 2000s, there was room for Spagett; I can’t go a week without hearing someone reference the Free Real Estate line, so there is something to be said for the comedian’s icon status in the internet sphere. The mission of his music, a relatively new venture considering his slow output, has often fallen somewhere between parody and self-laceration. Whether he’s aimed at Trump (an easy target, to say the least) or the California dad lifestyle, there has been little room for the songs to take center stage. What the Brokenhearted Do, his first album not focused solely on a comedic purpose, is his best and most consistent effort yet.
When listening to What the Brokenhearted Do, it’s essential to know who Heidecker is imitating. A noted Beatles, Dylan, and just about every singer-songwriter of the 1970s fan, his influences rest comfortably in the back of his pocket on his first record that achieves something more than proficiency. WTBD is lush, excellently mixed soft rock with a clear love for the melodies of Paul McCartney and The Band. Opener “Illegal” feels pulled straight from the big-band acoustic rock epicenter, whereas “When I Get Up” may as well be a McCartney-penned children’s song. It’s a strong mix of humor, wit, and easy instrumentation exemplifying all the album’s strengths. WTBD is a good time, something to have on while you cook or feel just melancholy enough not to listen to the Smashing Pumpkins. Heidecker is writing good songs here, but they’re steeped so heavily in the past that it’s impossible to view them out of context.
One of the cheerier moments, “Insomnia,” feels pulled straight from the rockabilly boom, replete with nonsensical lyrics and frequent guitar jabs. There are few moments as energetic on WTBD, but the quiet mix (featuring production from Jonathan Rado) suffocates it. Rather than dance-prone swing, these moments feel more like long-form experiments for a sketch. Influence is a key aspect of Heidecker’s music, and he isn’t safe from himself here. The title track is the strongest tune, featuring the only melody I can’t get out of my head (and some pretty good singing), but it’s followed by the mid-tempo “Funeral Shoes,” a song that sounds as bored as its simple harmony. Heidecker is known to put all of himself into his work, but many songs on WTBD sound half-baked, or otherwise not interesting enough for Tim to try his best at them. A product of the mix? Possibly. Is the weight of too many legendary influences starting to take effect? Maybe. Whatever the reason, it’s hard to believe lines like “I said I loved you like crazy” when we know the love behind the feeling is false, compounded by the fact that Heidecker doesn’t give much reason to believe the lie.
For better or worse, What the Brokenhearted Do is Tim Heidecker’s best record. His musical palette is defined, and his influences are finally given the chance to be the formula rather than the mouthpiece. What drags the record down is Heidecker’s inability to commit emotionally, leaving the portrait of broken love feeling somewhat hollow. There is an arc, a healthy amount of songs, and plenty of great melodies, but the “bit” nature of the project is inescapable, even with iconic influences.