Reinvention is hard. Once you get known for something, it can be pretty difficult to break out of that mould and head off in a fresh direction. This can be hard when your claim to fame is a little embarrassing and about as far from the thing you ever wanted to be remembered for as possible.
So while John Munnelly has been a comedian and actor, responsible for a few comedy songs on YouTube, ‘Hello World’ represents a step into a more serious genre of music. And thankfully it’s nowhere near as bad as you’d expect if from a man who once released a “comedy” song entitled Does My Bum Look Big in This?
‘Hello World’ seems to be taking its cues from bands like the Talking Heads, setting itself up as a nifty blend of likeable pop rock with some introspective lyrics smuggled beneath a catchy rhythm. But Munnelly is no David Byrne. And beneath some nice melodies and some clever post-production that leaves the album with a glossy electronic polish, ‘Hello World’ is a lyrical mess.
The problem certainly isn’t a lack of ideas, but rather an overabundance of half fleshed out notions that flutter about without really saying anything. Munnelly takes on a host of weighty themes – illness, loss and death all feature heavily – but he never really manages to do anything fresh with them. When Munnelly quotes Yeats on opening track We Should Go Blind (“Things fall apart/ the centre cannot hold”), it feels like he just couldn’t think of any other words that rhymed rather than being a particular relevant reference or homage.
Songs like People Die and Nowhere Without You do exactly what their titles suggest. Just when Munnelly seems like he’s come up with an inspired lyrical twist he quickly reverts to a standard formula, humming a dull chorus over a fairly basic guitar part.
Thankfully Munnelly never resorts to his comedy persona, but the flipside of this is that ‘Hello World’ seems at times to be struggling desperately to be edgy. Case in point is Price of the Medicine, which sees Munnelly railing against Ireland’s health service with bizarrely heavy handed lyrics like, “He gets to choose between a bankruptcy/ and the life of his wife’s unborn baby”. Maybe that was supposed to be a joke after all, because it’s hard to imagine anybody could have uttered lines like that and kept a straight face.
The highpoint is probably Things Change, a fairly standard post-breakup lament that does at least manage to channel a real emotional resonance. Here Munnelly’s grainy, inharmonious voice actually feels at home with what he’s singing about – whereas elsewhere it becomes more than a little jarring.
‘Hello World’ has a lot of nice little indications that Munnelly is a songwriter with a distinct voice, but somehow the end result is less than the sum of its parts. The album feels unfinished, or maybe just unsure about what, if anything, it actually wants to say. And as a reinvention it isn’t anywhere near memorable enough to wipe Does My Bum Look Big in This? from our collective memory.