Obligatory Villagers is the third official album by Nellie McKay (who also has a six-track EP on iTunes for the soundtrack to the film Rumor Has It...). She reveled in a glorious debut, Get Away from Me, which spawned the single "David" that was heard on shows like Grey's Anatomy and Weeds and got a lot of talk for her mixture of rap, jazz, and pop sensibilities that formed into something like psychotic showtunes.
McKay appeared in The Threepenny Opera with Cyndi Lauper and Alan Cumming around the same time her second album (a double-disc like her debut) was supposed to come out. It was stalled significantly when her label Columbia didn't want to release another double CD and wanted to chop her 24-track discs to one 16-track disc. In the end, the label was right (the tracks they wanted to cut are in fact the worst songs on the album) but McKay persevered, having the album come out on her own label.
Touring a lot and Broadway behind, it was quietly revealed that McKay was releasing another album for 2007. While she has always had a problem with the elimination process, the majority of her material is quite album worthy, so her fans looked forward to another double-disc album that had more great songs than most artists' single discs. Alas, no dice. Even on her own label, McKay cut her work down to 9 tracks (one of which is under 30 seconds).
What is left is a jumbled symphonic mess. Everything sounds full, bright, bubbly, and sardonic, but it does not go anywhere. It gets off on the right foot, with McKay deadpanning the opening line, "Feminists don't have a sense of humor." The rest of that track ("Mother of Pearl") is a cute behind-the-scenes in the studio, as her bandmates and engineers all seem to be in on the fun. But what ends up being an adorable b-side is actually the high point of an otherwise bland offering of tracks that just blend into each other.
Nothing sticks out, nothing has the trademark snark of her previous discs, and they seem more focused on a light-hearted jam session than the creation of a cohesive, comprehensive album of music. While McKay never geared herself as a singles artist ("David" was all industry word-of-mouth).
It is a tremendous disappointment that has one scratching their head. Too disjointed and noisy for background music, too muted and lyrically nonsensical to focus on. Altogether, it's a very dull half hour. One can hope that the "second disc" of material will come fast and make us forget this junior year slump.
Check Out Instead: Nellie McKay's Get Away From Me or The Dresden Dolls's selftitled album