Trying to figure out how to start a review for an album like this on Punknews is a task in and of itself. MC Lars has been met previously with comments like “Atom and His Package called…” and “Poor man’s Atom…” I can’t claim there are no connections, and neither can he, as a track titled “Atom, You’re Awesome” on his debut album, Radio Pet Fencing, pays homage to a musician Lars admires. Then again, to deem him a copycat is to not understand the concept behind his music. He has dubbed it “Post-Punk Laptop Rap,” and as the opening of “Hot Topic Is Not Punk Rock” states, “MC Lars is more punk than you.”
Why even write a review of this album for Punknews? (A) The majority of Lars' audience has come from pop-punk fans on tours with the likes of Bowling for Soup and the Matches, (B) he is truly doing something different in today’s music scene, and isn’t afraid to be trying something different and let you know he’s doing it. What’s more punk than that? So now if I may, I’ll proceed with an actual album review.
The Graduate is by no means a perfect album. As a complete piece of work, 2004’s Laptop EP is much more solid in creating a specific style that is Lars. However, The Laptop EP only had seven songs to work with, whereas The Graduate presents fans with 14 tracks to digest. Furthermore, The Laptop EP seemed more like the introduction of an artist’s style, and gimmick (if you will) to the American audience (as his first record was released by a UK label). The Graduate branches out from this image he has created for himself, and while some of the songs aren’t as stellar as what you’d otherwise expect from Lars, the album truly shows the evolution (or graduation) of an artist and offers a lot more to think about in the process.
It opens with “Download This Song” featuring Jaret Reddick of the previously mentioned Bowling for Soup. It’s as catchy as it gets, while being an intelligent look into the music revolution caused by downloading, the major label ideologies, and what is to come in the future. “Did you know in 10 years labels won’t exist / goodbye DVDs and compact discs.”
The second track is much less serious. “The Roommate from Hell” features vocals from MC Chris, also known as MC Pee Pants to Aqua Teen fans. If you ever wondered what Satan would sound like after sucking on helium, MC Chris provides this, proving this was just a great guest feature choice. “Roommate” feels a lot more like Lars’ older style of songs -- just plain silly, but laced with an endless number of allusions. Lines like “He likes holding down Christians / and reading Jean Paul Sartre” and “Lars, you’re causin’ laughter when you call yourself a rapper, dude / How many Dead Milkmen albums are there named after you?”
“21 Concepts” simply goes through 21 concepts Lars had for songs that were ditched when writing the album. “Hot Topic is Not Punk Rock” is a self-explanatory, but much needed song. Plus, lines like “Hot Topic uses contrived identification with youth subcultures to manufacture and antiauthoritarian identity and make millions…When a crass corporate vulture feeds on mass consumer culture, spending Mommy’s money is not punk rock” make this otherwise straightforward track shine.
“Rapgirl” is one of those tracks that doesn’t seem as high-quality as the rest of the album and not necessarily the “Lars” you’d expect, but for someone that has been following his career, it’s interesting to see the artist start to seep through in his lyrics, as opposed to just being about his views. This, however, is followed by Generic Crunk Rap.” It opens “This popular sub-genre is brought to you by materialism. We’d like to thank Bentley, Alize champagne, and Sean Jean clothing. We’d like to thank the record industry for marketing hip-hop stereotypes to twelve-year-olds in a pop culture that unquestioningly consumes vapid, superficial entertainment.” It then proceeds to satirically emulate every crunk song ever written.
“Ahab” is the obligatory literary song on this disc. Lars graduated as an English major from Stanford, and his previous albums have included tracks on Edgar Allen Poe’s “Raven” and Shakespeare’s “Macbeth.” This track provides the context of Melville’s Moby Dick in 3:21. “iGeneration” and “Signing Emo” are both carryovers from The Laptop EP, and both are five star tracks. The former might as well be the anthem for our generation, and the allusions in this song are perfect and endless. You can find new things every time you listen. The latter provides another great look at how music genres are created and die, as well as how the music industry operates. With a fake band, Hearts That Hate, providing a generic emo chorus between verses, this is a Lars classic.
In between these tracks, Lars shows off his nerdy side full-force in “Space Game,” has a much more serious hip-hop track with Ill-Bill in “The Dialogue,” and “Internet Relationships” analyzes the problems Lars sees with the current issues of internet dating and the internet taking away our personal communication.
“If I Had a Time Machine, That Would Be Fresh” is really old-school Lars, being just a very silly song around a minute in length. “Six Degrees of Kurt Cobain” is interesting on the first listen, but loses its appeal after a few times.
A few tracks hold this back from being a five star album, but for longstanding fans, it’s a great piece of work, showing more of the artist behind the songs, while still offering the clever looks at our society that you’d expect form Lars. It’s loaded with allusions, and it’s as catchy as Lars has always been. Just give up on trying to be cool and give this album a try. If you get it, it’s well worth it.