A friend of mine has a saying that as you get older, you don't change -- you only become "more so." What he means is that people turn into exaggerated versions of themselves as they age, and their beliefs and defining characteristics stand out more and more. The expression goes a long way towards explaining what has happened to Lewis Black, whose tenth album, In God We Rust, demonstrates that the comic hasn't just gotten older. He has become more so.
This time around, Black's focus is less political (he's long been one of the country's foremost political comedians) and more aimed at American culture at large; there are routines on smart phones, Facebook, airports and Jersey Shore. If none of those subjects sound particularly cutting edge, it's because they're not; for the first time, Black -- who built his career on being the guy enraged by everything -- is directing his rage at things that feel at least five years out of date, and well-covered by many other lesser comics. He's playing catch up instead of leading the charge. Sure, we're on his side because Facebook is overused and Farmville is a waste of time, but so what? Not only is Farmville material a couple years too late, but it's not even worth doing unless one is able to find something new or interesting to say about it. To just make fun of it for being stupid is to state the obvious.
In the same way that George Carlin grew grouchier and grouchier as his career went on -- to the point where his last special or two barely had any jokes, just angry rants about the ills of society as he saw them -- Black appears to be going down a rabbit hole of negativity. The problem is that his feels almost like a put on. Carlin seemed genuinely angry and depressed about where the world was going; Black seems to find things to complain about on In God We Rust just because it's what his audience expects of him. In the past, we've looked to him (and other stand-up comics) to articulate our collective frustration, but when all he's doing is ranting about air travel (a common top in the '80s) and how Farmville is a waste of time, he's not really articulating our collective rage -- at least, not in a way that any of us haven't already done. I get that he's the pissed off guy, but on this latest album he seems to be looking for things to get pissed off about instead of the other way around.
Because Black is such a talented and experienced comic, In God We Rust still has its moments even amidst the disappointing material. Most of it is in his presentation -- few comedians can time a pause better than Black, and the laughs are generally generated more by how he's saying something than by what he's saying. After the release of last year's The Prophet -- which was really just a stand-up set recorded in 1990 but released over 20 years later -- In God We Rust should have been an anticipated return to form. Instead, it feels more like an imitation of a Lewis Black album: all empty rage, hollow at its center.
- Album Release Date: 9/11/12
- Label: Comedy Central Records: