Nilsson: Son of Schmilsson

Rating: 5.8/10
Rated as
: Album
Album Status
: for Fans
Released: 1972
Specific Genre: Pop, Pop Rock
Main Genre: Pop
Undertones
: Rock&Roll, Baroque Pop, Country Pop, Vaudeville Pop, Traditional Pop, Orchestral Pop, Folk Pop
Label: RCA Victor

1 Take 54 2 Remember (Christmas) 3 Joy 4 Turn on Your Radio 5 You’re Breakin‘ My Heart 6 Spaceman 7 The Lottery Song 8 At My Front Door 9 Ambush 10 I’d Rather Be Dead 11 The Most Beautiful World in the World
Bonus Tracks: 12 What’s Your Sign? 13 Take 54 14 Campo de Encino 15 Daybreak

Now this time through, we want everybody to listen to the punchline

Nilsson had hit it big time with the predecessor Schmilsson (1971), but as the B-movie theme of this son-of-album suggests, that success in hindsight might be something like the real life equivalent of The Dude actually getting his rug back. On Son of Schmilsson, Nilsson still straddles the thin line of parody vs. rip-off successfully for the most part, though the sleep-walking confidence is replaced with the lumbering gait of a very lucky drunkard. Evenly divided into earnest, sentimental crooner-anthems of traditional pop or vaudevillian ditties on the on hand and, on the other hand, straight rock&roll parodies, self-referential and thoroughly camp in nature, this album is a showcase of executing (in both senses) genre-stereotypes. Suspicion arises this might work better rated as straight comedy, not music.

While the actual fluff like the wannabe-Crosby-christmas of „Remember“ or the Beach Boys/calypso sent-up of “The Most Beautiful World in the World” makes me chuckle faintly, his stab at wistful country pop ballads, “Joy”, is possibly one of his funniest songs, especially when the cowboy runs out of ways to explain the cycle of relationships: “Things went good, things went bad. Good. Bad. Good, bad. Guuh, baaahhh, guh-bah…”. And „Turn on Your Radio“ or „The Lottery Song“ prove again just how closely Nilsson listened to Lennon/McCartney’s folk pop songcraft of „Blackbird“ or „I Will“ – nowhere near that quality though. These musically competent statements are nothing new to Nilsson and nothing he hadn’t done better before.

But in line with an album containing actual burps, ironic audienc-cheering and someone gurgling liquids and spitting them out as a rhythmic device, almost all the other songs are genre exercises and could be titled „Son of Country Pop“, „Son of Baroque Pop“, „Son of Rock&Roll #2“ or „Son of McCartney“ and so on. If Zappa is Ween’s direct antecedent, Nilsson is their silly uncle. The genre exercises are the interesting aspect of the record, though for different reasons. As mentioned, „Joy“ just is a terrific send-up – a caricature, but highly listenable. After the gorgeously gentle „Turn on Your Radio“, the rocking revenge boogie „You’re Breaking My Heart“ features lines like „You’re breaking my heart / you tear it apart – so fuck you“. This is 1972, show me something like this on, say, Exile on Main St. and I’ll show you Lennon’s coked up drinking buddy. Then show me something like this on a record targeting unsuspecting Burt Bacharach-fans and I’ll show you a bewildered Nilsson: ‘You didn’t get the Schmilsson-message the first time? Well, fuck you.’

The beatlesque „Ambush“ is an inconspicuous piece of baroque pop rock grandeur – really one of Nilsson’s quasi-highlights, with the project idea being: What if “Hey Jude” didn’t quite work, wouldn’t that be fun? Nilsson makes a point of purposely dulling down the song, taking way too obviously long with his endless crowd-cheering („Alright… alright… alright…… alright…“). Still, give it a quasi-spin! „I’d Rather Be Dead“ is silly filler vaudeville pop, „The Most Beautiful World in the World“ is just a general fuck-you to album closers, utilising a deranged calypso pop hook violated by Mary Poppins – Nilsson concludes this quasi-concept album about being a quasi-slave to pop culture (productively and receptively) with another musical nod to cheap sequels: „See you next album!“.

So indeed, there’s a lot of pop competence and a lot of bitter meta-jokes on this album. I didn’t even mention the albums’ best song, the bouncy and indirectly media-critical pop rock of „Spaceman“, since it simply is not the focus of interest: More than half of the album is Nilsson gleefully goofing off, unwilling to care for quality if it doesn’t just happen.