Chris Rock's album Roll with the New is a unique combination of live concert comedy and in-studio stuff. In his live act, Chris Rock is seamless. His cadence -- catchy and unmistakably his -- mesmerizes the audience into fits of ha-ha's. His rhythm and timing are impeccable, and he sounds completely improvisational. Except when he doesn't mean to be. He is a true pro. Chris Rock hits the audience with the hard and funny facts. He really calls 'em like he sees 'em. He may only have his GED (as he says, his "good enough degree"), but there is no mistaking this man's brilliance. To his audience's delight, he smartly covers racism, celebrities, and relationship psychology. (Particularly funny bit on women putting men up to admitting having cheated. "I know ya did, just admit it. I know ya did it, just admit it.") Chris Rock is the kind of likable hard-edge comedienne (Dennis Leary-esque?) who strokes his audience while making the bad guys seem like "the other people." He also uses his particular mastery of the comedic "call back" (bringing back a joke over and over for a laugh) along with repetition to really snag his audience. Chris Rock is comedy savvy. But can he do it without a crowd?
The Roll With the New album begins with a less-than lukewarm "warm-up" act annoying the crowd. On first listen, one might ask, "Why didn't they just cut that guy from the album?" Then, realization: It's Chris Rock acting like an opener for Chris Rock. (Real live crickets in the background.) He intermingles bits of sketch comedy and the sections from his live act (otherwise heard in his uproarious HBO special Bring on the Pain). In between segments, Rock reappears as the horrible-terrible-no-good-very-bad comic and a host of other comedic characters. He orchestrates several mock interviews (not all voices done by him) and also plays a belligerent audience member who cracks, "Who the $#! is Chris Rock?!" after every other segment. It is quite an odd arrangement, next to the live concert. Not exactly workable. The live stuff is really out of control, outright wild; and while the in-studio recordings are clever, they're not laugh-out-loud funny. Caught between the two approaches, this recording lags in energy overall. As always, Chris Rock is political, but some of it misses the mark, or begs the question: What is the mark? Pitted against bull's-eye punch lines and an exuberant crowd, some of the random in-studio humor seems lacking. And quiet. (Talk about crickets!) For example, there is a very creative studio interview where all questions posed to O.J.Simpson and Ike Turner are answered with samples of rap recordings. Unquestionably creative. Put that next to the "tossed salad man" and some of the humor gets lost. Perhaps two separate recordings would make for a smoother, more streamlined album.
Not exactly one for the kids, Chris "Rocks" the house in the live section of this album and could win over the most conservative crowd if only he had a language filter. A mixed bag, but a good album over all. Definitely worth listening to.