They’re called accelerator coasters. They’re dotted around the world in various large scale amusement parks, and the concept is simple: you strap in, get a countdown, and are immediately rocketed at speeds of over 200 km/h straight upwards as high as 140 meters in the air before taking a quick nosedive down to earth and right back to where you started at the loading station. All told, it’s about 30 seconds of pure adrenaline.
I’ve been one at least one of those coasters, and the only piece of media that has ever come close to filling me with that same sense of unrelenting energy and pure exalted release is Andrew W.K.’s party animal debut album I Get Wet, which celebrates its 20th anniversary today.
Who would believe me if I said Andrew W.K.’s I Get Wet is one of the best albums of the 21st century? Probably nobody. But narrowing that scope would betray the maximalism and absurd Gonzo confidence that is in the very DNA of I Get Wet. Never before has an album or an artist so blatantly and gleefully ignored basic music tenets like dynamics, clear arrangements, or variety. If you want something more refined, go listen to a Yanni record.
One of my favourite things in relation to this album is trying to see different publications attempt to give it a genre tag. It’s rock music, but no rock music sounds like this. It has the energy of heavy metal, but it’s too goofy and wild and purposefully boneheaded for even the most debased glam metal outfits. The attitude is punk rock, but there’s nothing really rough or ragged about the music. The extreme wall of sound is like if Phil Spector was in a noise rock band, and W.K.’s vocals are layers of his strained, hair raising scream to the point where it sounds like an entire angry mob ready to destroy.
But there’s no anger or rage because there’s only one goal: to party your face off. W.K.’s channels all his explosiveness in the name of having a good time, and it’s almost impossible not to get caught up in his tornado of celebration. ‘It’s Time to Party’ goes right into ‘Party Hard’ without missing a beat, and for the next 30 minutes, there will be no time to catch your breath or take a break. This is rock music after downing eight straight vodka Red Bulls, sloppy voices and intense compression intact from start to finish.
Upon its initial release, I Get Wet was absolutely refused any actual respect or real criticism. What self-respecting rock journalist is going to give a thorough analysis of the song ‘Party Til You Puke’? The immediate dismissal of Andrew W.K. as a joke overlooked one major factor of I Get Wet: nothing else sounded like it. You might have vehemently disagreed with the balls to the wall sound that W.K. was pushing, but in a world filled with ultra-cool downtown indie-rock hipsters, aggro nu-metal hucksters, boy bands, rap stars, and pop idols, W.K. was proudly standing on his own. It took a lot of smarts to sound this stupid.
It’s impossible to tell the first time you listen to the album, but W.K. is an incredibly gifted melody writer. ‘Party Hard’, ‘I Love NYC’, ‘Fun Night’, and ‘She Is Beautiful’ all have hooks buried beneath the mountains of distorted guitar and crashing cymbals, while even the most ragged shout-along like ‘Ready to Die’ and ‘Take It Off’ have souped-up synthesisers and duelling harmony guitars. W.K.’s background as a trained keyboardist doesn’t come in contrast to his breakneck audio assault, but rather it actually serves as a bedrock for him to bring his love of major chord rock music to the masses.
That’s the thing about I Get Wet: it’s so over the top, so loud, and so maximalist that it almost seems like a joke. But it’s not. Despite its reliance on frat boy gang vocals and full-throttle sonic attacks, there is plenty of time, care, and deliberate intent behind W.K.’s world of party rock. When you listen to the album’s title track, the only thing more impressive than the unstoppable drive is how many hooks W.K. managed to fit in, from the fanfare horn intro to the back and forth vocal hooks the chorus to the absurdly perfect countermelody at the songs final burst.
I Get Wet serves practical purposes. It’s the world’s greatest album to listen to at the gym, for instance. But I Get Wet is at its best when it is in its natural environment: soundtracking a wild celebration. If you listen to I Get Wet on any volume setting below ten, you’re doing yourself a disservice. No piece of music has ever been more deserving to crank as loud as possible, whether you’re in your car or on your computer or going through a classic set of speakers. You don’t even need anybody else to join in — “Hang out with yourself and have a crazy party” is one of the cheeky opening lines to the album, after all. Partying is as much of a mindset as it is a physical action, so says the gospel of our lord and saviour, Andrew W.K.
20 years on, you could still try and resist the exuberance and fun of I Get Wet, but why? Everything about W.K., from his ever-increasingly filthy all-white uniform to his reliance on the idea of “partying”, is difficult to look at unironically, but there’s a truly inspiring message that goes with it about living for the present. It’s all surface level, but that surface-level material is more affecting than most of the “serious” albums that have come out in the past two decades. W.K. took heavy rock music to its logical endpoint, leaving nothing but sweat and a few drops of blood in his wake. The results have aged amazingly well, probably because nothing else in the world sounds like I Get Wet.
Andrew W.K. came, he partied, and he conquered. All these years later, it remains the ultimate rock and roll thrill ride.
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