Neil Hamburger

First of Dismay

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It's a shame that at this late stage of the game, the formerly "edgy" comedian Neil Hamburger has fallen back on hack material like knock-knock jokes (Hamburger: "Layla"/Audience: "Layla who?"/Hamburger: "Layla those Eric Clapton records down on the floor so the dog can shit on them!") and Johnny Carson-like, call-and-response material ("What's the only thing uglier than Limp Bizkit fans? Limp Bizkit merch" or "Why doesn't Eddie Vedder ever flush his toilet? There might be something in there he can incorporate into a song.") Still, the good news is that on his 2014 half-comedy/half-music album Fist of Dismay, his constant throat-clearing has reached the deep resonance of late-era Leonard Cohen, while the stammering and fumbling of punch lines suggests the conceptual comedian has mystically bottled that usually fleeting "pre-stroke" state of mind. Sneering at an audience about coat checks, Rudy Vallée, and Maria Callas for the sake of a scatological Marcel Marceau joke is the out-of-time, out-of-place, and out-of-mind kind of material that would have both Andy Kaufman and Marcel Duchamp smiling from above, and even if this is the usual absurdist manna that Hamburger often offers, what makes this dispatch from the bottom of the barrel so top-shelf are the songs. Here, the Too Good for Neil Hamburger Band play the Love Unlimited Orchestra to Hamburger's Barry White on the disco damnation of generic trash bags called "Endless Roll," while country music doesn't get much more down and dire than when diabetic army vets meet their maker on "Nickel Candy." Odd thing is, right after the last joke ("What do [sic] U2's music have to do with the Somalian refugees? They're poor.") there's a "thank you" that sounds sincere. Otherwise, this is a near-perfect Neil Hamburger album, better than mucus, high humidity, and hair shirts.

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