Fans of the beloved TV sitcom Parks & Recreation generally have a soft spot for the music of Mouse Rat, the fictive rock band led by P&R character Andy Dwyer, whose wildly derivative 1990s-style melodic alternative rock sounded like the plausible creation of a character who was sweet, good-hearted, and enthusiastic but not especially bright. Like many Park & Recreation characters, Dwyer had a habit of landing on his feet, and Mouse Rat ended up landing just enough on-screen gigs to create a body of recordings that could fill an album. Dualtone Music has given Mouse Rat the vinyl immortality they dreamed of with 2021's The Awesome Album, which includes their original songs as well as some Frank Sinatra covers they worked up for a Valentine's Day dance. While Chris Pratt, who played Dwyer, provides the lead vocals and occasional acoustic guitar on these tracks, for the most part the songs and performances are the work of composer Mark Rivers, who in a 2020 interview said, "Mike Schur (P&R's creator) really wanted to dial it into, like: They’re not terrible. They don’t sound bad. They’re competent." And that description nails most of The Awesome Album -- Mouse Rat are never so bad they're funny, they're funny because Andy Dwyer was equally passionate and unimaginative, and just good enough to communicate his ideas without disguising the fact that those ideas were either silly or second-hand. When Dwyer wanted to write a song 5,000 times better than "Candle in the Wind," he came up with "5,000 Candles in the Wind," which remarkably sounds truly anthemic and lyrically dim-witted, while "Menace Ball" lifts Hootie and the Blowfish's sound so accurately it could pass for a Weird Al Yankovic-style parody. Though Pratt's not a great singer, he's good enough to make the songs work in this context. He sounds like Andy Dwyer, which is to say he sings from the heart and clearly has no idea that his lyrics sound silly, and the sincerity of "Lovely Tonight" is genuine and touching -- for two minutes, no one would ever doubt Andy loved April with all his heart and soul. The album also includes two contributions from Jeff Tweedy, who played the reclusive leader of the band Land Ho! "Pickled Ginger" sounds like a Star Wars-era Wilco demo, while the more fully realized "Cold Water" is a gentle acoustic number that's pleasing if a bit short of essential. If you're not invested in Parks & Recreation, The Awesome Album will probably sound like the work of a slightly more-than-mediocre band, but if you're the kind of fan who sings along when "5,000 Candles in the Wind" appears in a Parks & Rec rerun, you'll be of the right mindset to enjoy this music all on its own.
Awesome Album Review
by Mark Deming
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