My appreciation for Key Wilde & Mr. Clarke is long-standing and deep. My review of Rise and Shine, their first album from early 2010, felt to me less like a review than a summary of everything the duo had done in the couple years or so leading up to the album.
And to some extent I feel a bit the same way about their brand-new second album, Pleased To Meet You. It's been more than 3 years in the making, obviously, but beyond that, some of this music ("Animal Alphabet", for example, or "Raised By Trolls" and "Chuckers") has made its way into the world during that time. So when I say that this album feels familiar, I can't always tell if that's because it actually is familiar or because KWMC have tapped into some timeless country-punk attitude.
In that review of their debut, I called the band (they're a quartet now, with a handful of guest artists, including producer Dean Jones, joining in) a "mix of Johnny Cash, Johnny Rotten, and Johnny Appleseed." Sometimes, as on the opening title track (whose structure as a counting song is disguised by the propulsive shuffling beat and the British born-Clarke's slight sneer of a voice), they mix them up on the same song. "Raised By Trolls" has a killer surf-rock guitar line, but the next track, "Wander Round the World" is a sweet and earnest bluegrass ode to travel.
If anything, Wilde and Clarke's songwriting has become even weirder. "Lazy Raisins" is a ska tune about some raisins doing nothing but lying in the sun (which makes sense, when you think about it). "King of the Town" is a rocker about a kid who bemoans his inexplicable election as head of the city until he makes some very sensible rules. That's followed by "Conversation," a mini-operatic rocker in the vein of the Who about a kid confused by the adult chatter at a party which features the line, "Please excuse me / I have to step outside / My bike is double-parked." And as mystifying that song is, I have no idea what "Bigga Bagga" is about other than silly wordplay and shouting "Oi!" a lot (as a result, I think it'll be a big hit with Little Boy Blue).
Which isn't to say that they can't be tender and linear -- "Take Ten" is a roots-rocker with layered harmonies that happens to be about frustration and taking a break. But kids will relate because it's willing to sound how kids (and, occasionally, adults) honestly feel -- "This is the stupidest planet in the entire universe / It's so dumb / It's not fair / I've had enough / And I just don't care / Count to ten / Start all over again."
The 45-minute album will be most appreciated by kids ages 3 through 8. You can listen to the entire album here. And of course the physical product includes illustrator Wilde's character-filled illustrations of assorted animals and people. (Visit the KWMC website for stories behind some of the surprising appearances on the album cover.)
If you've read this far, it shouldn't be any great surprise that I think Pleased To Meet You is fabulous, an energetic blend of Americana and punk, of empathy and third-grade snark. Fans of Rise and Shine should snap this up immediately, and the rest of you shouldn't delay much, either. Highly recommended.