Har Mar Superstar

The Handler

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It's more than a little surprising that Sean Tillman has been able to make a three-album career out of Har Mar Superstar. While his randy send-up of urban music doesn't quite reach code-red, Weird Al levels of jokiness, Tillman's music and shtick (wow, a chubby white guy singing about sex!) always come closer to novelty music than sultry R&B. Not that it needs to be genuine -- at his best, Har Mar Superstar is sincerely fake. Har Mar Superstar played the irony of the contrast between Tillman's look and sound to the hilt, and You Can Feel Me added major-label bling to the mix; while both albums had more than a few fun moments, they weren't exactly consistent. On Har Mar's third album, The Handler, the fun moments are fewer, and the disappointments more frequent; there's nothing as clever as "Power Lunch" or as gleeful as "EZ Pass" here. Throughout the album, Tillman sounds less confident than he ever has before, deploying backing vocalists to underscore affirmations like "Har Mar is so sexy!" and shout "woo!" on "Transit" and "Body Request" to remind everyone (including himself) of how much fun we're supposed to be having. Most of The Handler finds Tillman working well-worn territory, but a few interesting production touches perk up "DUI," which features a Kanye West-like, helium-voiced shorty, while "Save the Strip"'s spare, prickly sound nods to Timbaland's productions. The album's middle stretch is quirky enough to be the work of Har Mar Superstar without being grating: "Cut Me Up" is a sleek electro-pop duet with Karen O; though she and Tillman are both vocalists that teeter on the edge of distinctive and annoying, for the most part they stay on the better side of that divide. Another Yeah Yeah Yeah, guitarist Nick Zinner, appears on the frisky, glitchy "As (Seasons)," another one of The Handler's better tracks, and "Sugar Pie" ranks among Tillman's best Stevie Wonderisms. It's too bad that Har Mar Superstar doesn't just release singles instead of trying to come up with an entire album's worth of songs; Tillman's gimmick is fun in small doses, but his fair-to-middling pipes and an ability to make seemingly innocent phrases like "Bird in the Hand" sound drippingly lascivious do not a good album make. As it stands, The Handler shows that Har Mar Superstar can also give new meaning to the term "trying too hard."

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