I was recently asked whether I might be interested in reviewing an album of geeky music. Upon receiving this unexpected offer, I quickly arrived at my decision by the following three steps.
1. I know nothing about music.
2. I am totally a geek.
3. LET’S DO THIS THING.
Thus, with apologies to my musical friends and a rousing cheer for geeks everywhere, TMTF is delighted to review CTRL+ALT+DUETS, an EP of parody music.
Before I discuss any of the songs on this EP, I want to mention how much I love its cover. Any design that brings together Batman, Portal, Totoro and the TARDIS is a good one in my book. All it needs, really, is a Triforce and a Poké Ball. The title of the EP is also pretty clever, though the names of the musicians puzzle me. Isn’t Errol an owl from the Harry Potter books? Am I imagining things?
All right, let’s face the music.
CTRL+ALT+DUETS features seven tracks: all parodies of popular songs. I was strongly reminded of Weird Al Yankovic, who does a phenomenal job of juxtaposing silly lyrics with sad or emotional melodies. This EP does the same. The most striking thing about its songs is how humorously the lyrics contrast with the melodies.
The first song, “Tribbles,” is a glorious riff on Taylor Swift’s “I Knew You Were Trouble.” The defiant bitterness of the original song is redirected toward the furry creatures called tribbles from the Star Trek franchise. The singer—whom I presume to be Debs, since she doesn’t sound like the Harry Potter owl—delivers a solid, believably poppish performance.
Moving on to another major science fiction franchise: the next song, “TIE After TIE,” puts panicked lyrics to a slow, smooth melody to describe a frenetic Star Wars space battle. I recognized the song as a parody of “Time After Time,” with a bit of the Star Wars theme woven in for good measure. Debs is joined on this one by Errol, who has a surprisingly deep, masculine voice for an owl. As with “Tribbles,” I love the contrast between pop melodies and sci-fi scenarios.
Next, a Disney song! We’ve all heard “A Whole New World,” the magic carpet song from Aladdin. “A Virtual World” is much the same, except the girl really isn’t interested in what the guy wants her to see. The guy extols the merits of MMORPGs. The girl complains about them. The listener—at least, this listener—laughs.
I haven’t the faintest idea what song “Falling Quickly” parodies, but that doesn’t keep me from from appreciating its melancholy description of Tetris addiction.
More Disney? I won’t complain. “My Partner’s a Nerd” snarkily inverts “Part of Your World” from The Little Mermaid. In the original, the singer describes her treasured possessions and wishes her life were less ordinary. In “My Partner’s a Nerd,” the singer complains about the geeky junk cluttering her home and wishes her significant other were more ordinary.
“Commodore 64” is neither a familiar tune nor a familiar topic. (The Nintendo 64 will always be the console of my childhood; no other video game system with 64 in its name will usurp its coveted place in my memory!) “Commodore 64” is a catchy, bouncy love letter to that classic video game system and its software. Most of its gaming references went way over my head—hey, I was born in the nineties—but I like the blending of an Elvis Presley-style tune with snatches of chiptune music.
The EP concludes with “If I Were an Undead Crawler,” a deceptively cheerful acoustic piece in which the singers describe the things they would do if they were zombies—namely maiming, mangling and devouring their listeners. (Once again, I haven’t an inkling what song is parodied.) For me, the real charm of this song is when Errol realizes halfway through that he doesn’t really want to be a zombie.
Debs is a fantastic singer, and Errol has a pretty good voice. Their harmonies are lovely; their banter is even better. As parodies of existing works, the melodies in CTRL+ALT+DUETS are familiar and catchy. Musical arrangements are quite good, though a few synthesized instruments sound painfully fake.
The lyrics are consistently clever and humorous… provided you’re a geek. The references to Star Wars, zombies and classic gaming will make no sense to listeners not steeped in nerd culture. This EP fits a particular niche. Those who understand its jokes and catch its references will enjoy it much, much more than those who don’t.
Barring Errol’s role in the Harry Potter books, I’d never heard of Debs and Errol. (I’m pretty sure the Harry Potter Errol and the geeky musician Errol are the same guy—I mean, how many Errols can there be in the world?) When I began listening to CTRL+ALT+DUETS, I knew only that it would be geeky. I wasn’t sure what to expect.
I wasn’t disappointed. The EP turned out to be pretty awesome… and extremely geeky. For six Canadian dollars—because American dollars just ain’t good enough, I guess—these seven songs are a pretty good deal. If you’re a geek, CTRL+ALT+DUETS is absolutely worth checking out. If you’re not a geek, don’t feel guilty giving it a miss.