Billy Kelly is the whoopee cushion of kids music. Last year he stormed (politely) onto the kids music scene with Thank You For Joining the Happy Club, featuring the instant classic "People Really Like Milk" and other songs that usually brought smiles and occasionally laughs to listeners nationwide. For his just-released follow-up Is This Some Kind of Joke?, a self-described musical comedy album, he dials the funny up to 11.
The album starts off with poppy Is This a Joke?, which in just 2 minutes and 45 seconds, exhibits most of the Billy Kelly style -- nifty rhymes, fancy words, and a song you actually have to think about and listen to carefully if you're going to catch every reference. (I've listened to the album at least a half-dozen times, and I still think I've only caught 90% of the humor.) I say "most" of the style, because that song avoids the self-aware humor Kelly employs often. It's OK -- he uses it elsewhere, such as on "Me and My Brand New Haircut," on which Davy Jones sounds like he totally gets the joke. The chorus on the dance tune (natch) "The Dance From Outer Space" is like the best Greek chorus ever. Kelly hits more musical styles than he does on his debut (I especially liked the funk-sampled "Everybody's Got Their Underwear On"), but it's all in service to the lyrics. If you've heard the album, the lyrics "I already told you I can see you," "Thank you for saying you're welcome," "What's wrong with that guy over there," and "Where is the turtle wax?" will bring big smiles to your face. It's a bit darker than Happy Club -- instead of a song called "Springtime: It's My Favorite" there are songs about an alien dance taking over the world and swamp creatures threatening to take over the world -- but nothing too dark.
And "The Legend of Johnny Box," which owes a big debt, unsurprisingly, to the Man in Black. Wow -- it's one of those songs that starts out unassumingly, builds up to something big, then somewhere east of Poughkeepsie takes a turn into something silly, then epically silly, then beyond silly into that realm few people are willing to go. Let's put it this way... it's more than seven and a half minutes long, and it's worth every second.
As with his debut, it's going to be older kids who most appreciate the dense wordplay and humor Kelly packs in here, say ages 7 on up. You can hear some of the songs at his Myspace page or samples of all the tracks here. I should note that the first 1,000 copies of the album in physical format come hand-signed and packaged with an erasable marker and an incredibly dense maze in poster format that might take your kids the better part of an afternoon to work through.
Like some mutant offspring of the Holland-Dozier-Holland Motown songwriting team and Spike Jones (or possibly "Weird Al" Yankovic's cousin), Billy Kelly has written the album that precocious third graders have wanted all their life and just didn't know it. Their parents didn't know it, either, but now they do. No joke -- this is a seriously fun album. Highly recommended.