Tim Key: With A String Quartet. On A Boat

Album review by Steve Bennett

There are signs of a revival in the lost form of the comedy album, led by Harry Hill’s legally beleaguered Funny Times and backed by the likes of Bo Burnham and Tim Minchin, with their strong musical numbers.

The newest contribution to the genre, from Edinburgh Comedy Award-winner and Screenwipe regular Tim Key, is, it will come as little surprise to learn, a slightly more eccentric offering: a collection of a couple of dozen or more of his quirkily droll poems, set to the lulling tones of a string quartet. It’s slightly reminiscent of Vivian Stanshall’s spoken word cult classic Sir Henry At Rawlinson End.

But if only it were that simple.

For most of the album involves the deadpan Key chatting to the musicians, chiding one of them for applying lip gloss during a verse, for example, and niggling his hapless guitarist Lord (aka Tom Basden), who feels usurped by the classical quartet. Key’s awkwardly downplayed passive-aggression sets a disconcerting mood, heightened by his distinctively offbeat poems.

They are short offerings – some as brief as four words – and are strangely mundane. Not just in the topics they describe, but in the decidedly ordinary language he uses and the matter-of-fact delivery, liberally scattered with casual asides commenting on his creations, with the afterthoughts drowning out the actual verses themselves. He revels in the everyday detail, casually ignoring the bigger picture for comic effect.

And while such uneventful stanzas such as ‘The date broke down/Because Wade had stopped talking/So it was just Gloria talking now’ form the basis of his anti-poetry, there are points of interest among the commonplace – often just the insertion of a piquantly out-of character adjective, or, very occasionally, a subtly-used comic ‘reveal’.

Such an obtuse approach makes him an acquired taste, with this album of new material and tense conversation evoking a sweetly uncomfortable, ever-shifting ambiance rather than a laugh riot. But his unique persona is warmly compelling, and his imaginative word-pictures are ideally suited to an audio release. In the end, the gently brittle journey Key takes you on is as modestly beautiful as it is charmingly disconcerting.

Tim Key: With A String Quartet. On A Boat.
Running time:
54 mins
Released by: Angular/The Invisible Dot.
Price: £7.99. Click here to buy as a download from Amazon.

Here's a video of the track Waterloo:

Published: 9 Nov 2010

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