BOOK REVIEW: “Finally I Get ‘I Get Wet'”

Finally I Get “I Get Wet” by Simon Sweetman

I couldn’t quite see the fuss when Andrew WK released I Get Wet – back in 2001/2002. I mean, it was kinda fun, almost certainly funny, I never (quite) hated it. I just didn’t see it as any new thing, as any great idea. Sure, he seemed to arrive from nowhere and the music packed a (superficial) punch. But I’d done my time with hair metal and Meat Loaf and various party anthems. I didn’t need this circus act.

As the years went on I became far more interested in what Andrew WK would go on to do – particularly an all-instrumental collection called 55 Cadillac (piano-based improvisations) that is more Keith Jarrett than Quiet Riot.

But the most recent addition to the 33 1/3 series, wee books for anoraks, dealing – usually – in classic albums, in the stories around the making and/or reception of a “classic” album, is about Andrew WK’s album I Get Wet.

I’ve just reviewed the book (see the second article below!). It’s a wonderful piece of writing from author Phillip Crandall. And a reminder that, so often, the best music writing will send you back to the source. You’ll return to the music with fresh ears and fresh ideas, things to look for, a new way in. You’ll have a new perspective, or might be hoping to gain one from a further listen; a future listen…

I’ve bought and read books about music since I was 13. The first book that I became obsessed with was a Mick Jagger biography. I also read a book about the murder of John Lennon. In and around these books I was still finishing off the Willard Price adventure series, still reading Footrot Flats and other comic strips. I’d just started reading Stephen King. But those two books about rock icons had me hooked. I started buying anything and everything about music from the bargain bins. I took out library books, I checked the shelves at home, found books about The Beatles and Elvis Presley and The Rolling Stones. I devoured them. In some cases I read and re-read them, same with liner notes (remember those?). I’d have my parents’ LPs sprawled around me, searching for anything beyond the tracklisting.

It was always great to find out a bit more about the music you loved. But it was often more rewarding to read a fresh opinion about music you hadn’t heard or had decided wasn’t for you. This was where you could really gain insight, find that new way in, decide if it was worth it. Take someone else’s experience with you to the record for that second attempt.

I’ve never been interested in reading opinions simply to find something to agree with; to find someone who agrees with what I already think. I don’t need that validation. What I need is something interesting, something that shows great passion.

The 33 1/3 series is a lot of fun. I’ve read every book so far; by my count they’re just about to release the 90th in the series. I’ll start reading that soon. And I’m really looking forward to that one – it’s about Aphex Twin.

Some of the books haven’t quite worked for me. I found the ones about Nirvana and Radiohead really disappointing. Maybe that’s because I know the material so well already?

Because the series usually deals with classic albums – more often than not – I find I already know a lot of the “information”. So I’m always looking for the fresh new story, or the new way that the old tale is told.

But Phillip Crandall’s book about Andrew WK’s I Get Wet has been one of my favourites from this wonderful series of books. Fans will love it, sure. But if you’re like me, if you didn’t quite get the fuss first time around, you’ll not only find a funny, sad, fascinating story, you’ll find great heart-on-(record)-sleeve writing. You’ll find so much in the story behind the album – a whole lot of time and effort went into making an album that sounded like it had been tossed off as some middle-finger gesture, made to sound like an album that had required very little time or effort.

And you might find a new way in if you never cared about the album before. I’m digging I Get Wet a lot more than I did ten/twelve years ago. But I’m also in love with 55 Cadillac. And I’m aware, now, that there’s so much more to Andrew WK than that bloody-faced image of him we know so well from his debut album’s cover.

Phillip Crandall: Andrew W.K.’s “I Get Wet” (33 1/3) by Simon Sweetman

So often with the 33 1/3 series I’m reading about a classic album, one I know so well, one I felt I probably could have written about – I’m sure many readers of the series fell this way; it’s part of the charm. But there’s also the curveballs, and I’ve stuck with this series – also – for those. I want to read about albums I didn’t like, or, more the case, didn’t love. And Andrew WK’s I Get Wet is a great example. I didn’t love it. I was a bit baffled about the people who did love it, a bit dubious about this hair-metal/Meat Loaf/party-vibe shtick. But, I was working in music retail at the time and I do remember the small, concentrated fuss around this album. I was intrigued. And I didn’t ever hate it.

So, Phillip Crandall takes me back through the album with his book about Andrew WK’s 2002 debut album. And it’s a fascinating read, a lovingly gushed fan account that puts the reader right into the back-story, excitingly so. We find out a bit more – a lot more – about the music and motivations of the man that made this album that (and I have to give credit for this) seemed to arrive out of nowhere.

Crandall gives the album’s story its chance to shine in the spotlight, for it’s about the story of the album more than it’s ever about the actual album, it’s about the person playing the role of Andrew WK, it’s about the ten thousand hours already practiced – and perfected – before the Andrew WK of I Get Wet, all bloody-nosed and reckless-as-fuck looking either tormented and terrorised your eardrums or tantalised and teased your senses (/senseless).

I learned a lot here – because it’s good to read about stuff you don’t already know when it comes to music (or any subject, right?) It’s far more rewarding. I learned a lot about Andrew WK’s generosity to his fans, with his time – and money. I learned about the care and crafting of this reckless, shit-starting party-up persona.

And, yes, it sent me back to the album. Jury’s still out (still). But hey, it’s one mean feat that it even got me going back. Fans of the record will love this because it’s not an oft-told tale. And it also works as complete introduction to a very interesting musical artist. One with far more depth than I was ever going to give him credit for. I love, too, how the writing reeks of fan-happiness, of nearly breathless excitement towards the music, the energy behind it, the covering of the story as it’s happening. You’re put right into the heart of the assignment. In much the way that, whether you want it or not, Andrew WK places you right there alongside/inside his music. You’re there to confront the tune, because it’s certainly about to confront you.

Wonderful stuff.