Album Review: “What.” by Bo Burnham

“What.”, the 2013 album by Bo Burnham is wonderful, weird, and doesn’t care what you think of it because it’s an inanimate object and art is a lie anyway. Musically solid, intellectually fascinating, and fantastically full of unexpected turns, “What.” is an album that I’ve found myself re-listening to again and again for weeks. Find out why after the jump!

The listening experience for any of Bo Burnham’s work falls for me somewhere between listening to a standard comedy special and that of a complete music album. What I mean by this, is unlike a more usual comedy special, which have sharply diminishing returns on the enjoyment when listened to again, at least soon after, “What.” is on the short list of those that I can happily play on loop. Even though he pokes fun at traditional stand up comics, Burnham’s storytelling is far above average even when he’s pantomiming.

Early on in his career, his comedy songs seemed to be less about making a point- about society, culture, people- and more about getting a laugh. Years later, tracks like “From God’s Perspective” straddles the line between comedy and songs that might fit better with some of Phil Ochs’ more somber work. Though there is a risk of ending up too far over the line, Burnham pulls the audience back over the line of comedy like the a metaphorical belay line holding the audience over the cliff of sadness and self reflection

Top Tracks:

  1. Left Brain, Right Brain
  2. From God’s Perspective
  3. We Think We Know You
  4. Channel 5: The Musical

“Channel 5: The Musical,” despite being a studio track and not part of the main special, is a particular favorite of mine. Burnham’s theater background shows heavily here, with the song playing out a mental image straight out of a musical. The track is a fantastically written and executed piece of social commentary, and I’ll hold out hope that he goes back and makes the music video.

If you’d take part in a parasocial experiment with me, check out “What.” below, or go to Bo Burnham’s site and take his very scientific test of your happiness.

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