I've said it a bunch of times and I'll say it again: musical comedy is really tricky to pull off on an album. The jokes have to work, the songs have to have to work as music and, most difficult of all, the whole endeavor has to have some replay value. Unlike a traditional stand-up record with all its peaks and valleys and set-ups and punchlines and interesting stories, a musical comedy album runs the risk of coming off as track after track of the very same thing. Unless the style of the music is changing drastically from one song to the next (something a group like Flight of the Conchords is very good at), the musical comedian runs the risk of having the entire album come out sounding the same.
T.J. Miller's debut album, The Extended Play E.P., is an album kind of like that. Packed with over 40 tracks -- most of which are slick, well-produced comic parodies of rap music -- Extended Play eventually becomes too much of a good thing. As a comic, Miller isn't one for a really structured act; he's just a guy who's naturally funny and enjoyable to hang out with on stage (much like fellow comic Doug Benson, who happens to be a good friend of Miller's and even makes a cameo appearance on the album). That makes The Extended Play E.P., with its carefully written lyrics and tightly structured raps, something of a surprise. It's not what I would expect from T.J. Miller's debut comedy album. It wasn't until about four or five tracks in that I realized that there would be no actual live stand-up. The songs were not some kind of studio intro to a live album. They're the whole album.
The central joke of the album is a fairly obvious one: Miller is a poser, rapping about inane topics like his eye doctor and devoting an entire track to Appleton, Wisconsin. At several points on the record, he engages in rap "battles" with a lineup of guest stars (including fellow musical comic Bo Burnham, Miller's own brother and, eventually, Miller himself) and proves to be totally inept -- either he's too complimentary, or can't think of something good to rap about. It's the best running joke of the record, because it's one of the only examples of a situation in which Miller finds a new way to be funny with each song. Otherwise, there's a lot of repetition on The Extended Play E.P., as the songs all sort of bleed together. Like I said, that's already a risk on a musical comedy record, but even more so with rap -- the beats and songs come off awfully similar to one another (that can be true of a regular rap album, not just a funny one).
It also helps if you're familiar with Miller's entire body of work, since there are multiple references to Yogi Bear, an entire "skit" about Unstoppable (on which co-star Ethan Suplee appears) and a rap titled "Cloverfield Secrets." Whether this presumptuously assumes extensive knowledge of Miller's filmography or is designed to reward those of us who follow his career, I can't say. Even if you've never seen the movies, though, there's plenty of funny material on the album. It's just that, at times, it feels like the whole thing could have used some more careful editing.
Interspersed throughout the record are a few spoken word skits, billed in the liner notes as "completely improvised." That's not always something that should be bragged about, because most of those are not the strongest moments on the album -- especially when held up against the quick and clever wordplay that makes up the bulk of the song lyrics. In fact, the skits, which are silly and stream-of-consciousness, are more along the lines of what I expected from Miller's first album. I'm glad he went a different way, if only because it made The Extended Play E.P. more of a pleasant surprise. It may not all work, but I appreciate the effort.
- Album Release Date: 9/13/11
- Label: Comedy Central Records