ALBUM REVIEW: Tim Heidecker embraces the meme on ‘What the Brokenhearted Do…’

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Considering the bottomless pit of nihilistic absurdism that is Tim and Eric’s Awesome Show, Great Job!, Tim Heidecker’s folk rock albums might seem relatively unassuming. Still, it wasn’t long before he rustled some jimmies with his 2017 collection of anti-Trump songs. Too Dumb For Suicide, along with Heidecker’s general proclivity for political dissidence, got the attention of Alt-Right keyboard warriors. Their retaliation, in typical maturity levels, included spreading rumors that Heidecker’s wife left him. This memetic slander inspired his latest album, and that speaks to his unique mind. Anyone could listen to What The Brokenhearted Do… and feel sorry for the divorcee—making it a true testament of meta-humor and quality songwriting.

What the Brokenhearted Do…
Tim Heidecker
Jagjaguwar Records, June 7

In spite of its post-ironic context, this album’s concept is surprisingly genuine. Lead single “When I Get Up” is an ode to post-heartbreak stagnation, while Heidecker compares such failed romance to a crime in album opener “Illegal.” The latter’s garage-like jangle-pop and the former’s bar-ready piano rock stick with Heidecker’s simple charm, serving the lyrics with tasteful minimalism. When the album’s tragic concept fully enters the limelight on the title track, it balances despondence and endearment like Tom Waits’ Closing Time. Heidecker enters the mind of a disillusioned, promiscuous man though old-style organ-laden heartland.

From a sonic perspective, none of these songs are remotely original. The up-tempo riff of “Insomnia” is very much rockabilly by the book, as is the slide guitar and bright piano chords of “Funeral Shoes” for heartland rock. On one hand, this threatens to make What The Brokenhearted Do… a snooze fest. But its classic appeal plays into Heidecker’s narrative. He’s telling matter-of-fact telling stories from the perspective of a divorcee, whether about sleepless nights or hometown phobia. Regardless, the relatability of the record is palpable, as is the instrumental execution.

The cheerful bounce of these songs continually contrasts with the way they often project incurable glumness toward everything and everyone. “Coffee’s Gone Cold” finds an assortment of ways to make a bad headspace worse, while “Sometimes It Happens This Way” bemoans unavoidable romantic failure. As shimmering Hammond organ and lyrical guitar soloing respectively flesh out these arrangements, Heidecker manages to capture the timeless art of lovesick songwriting. His character is down in the dumps, so he writes a song about it. The song itself is catchy and fun, the depressing themes notwithstanding.

The self-explanatory titles of “I’m Not Good Enough” and “I Don’t Think About You (Much Anymore)” might let some people in on the joke, but Heidecker never goes out of his way to wink at his audience. His monologic lyrics almost come off like a therapy session—and maybe they are, indirectly. Whether it’s admitting his shortcomings to an ex-lover or deleting an ex’s number from his phone, Heidecker convincingly connects with the universal process of cutting losses and moving on. Not only that, but he does so with Beatles-esque vocal crescendos and dueling organ and guitars. Some could see this as committing to a bit, but the album overtakes the joke, re-entering earnestness.

“Finally Getting Over” suggests hope for restitution, and closer “Life’s Too Long” may as well be the conclusion of a chapter in Heidecker’s life: “So please stop your crying/ ‘Cause life’s too long to stay in love.” The sincerity pervades despite the fact this album is non-autobiographical. In that sense, it’s legitimately compelling. The icing on the cake will come in the event a 4chan troll takes What The Broken Hearted Do… as a sign of victory.

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