Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Andrew Mason's Hardly Workin' doesn't really work

Posted By on 07.03.13 at 08:34 AM

AndrewMasonHardlyWorkin.jpg
If you've ever taken driver's education you've probably been forced to sit through videos about the basic rules of the road, like how to proceed when you arrive at a four-way intersection, how often you should check your rearview mirrors, and what precautions you should take while driving in inclement weather. Chances are, at least a couple of these videos tried to address the rules of the road through the lens of entertainment; the clips used the kind of flimsy narratives typically associated with porn videos and starred teens who are supposed to be just like you because they're interested in pop culture (which ensured that the videos would age poorly). These driver's ed videos didn't so much sugarcoat important lessons about drunk driving and safety belts as much as they doused them in pounds of the sweet stuff, often to the point where it seemed like the videos' creators didn't think young drivers had the capability to comprehend the meaning of one of those octagonal red signs emblazoned with the word "stop."

That's the tone former Groupon CEO Andrew Mason takes on a new album called Hardly Workin'. Mason dropped the news that he'd be releasing a collection of "motivational business music" tracks back in March, and he explained that he was inspired to make the album so he could feed nuggets of wisdom to youngsters entering the workforce who don't have much of a grasp on business know-how. As he wrote on his site, many of the twentysomethings he worked with at Groupon weren't interested in reading business books, so "I came to realize that there was a real need to present business wisdom in a format that is accessible to the younger generation." Mason has a degree in music from Northwestern, so the idea to make an album is natural, and the dude has an unusual sense of humor that makes the concept of Hardly Workin' come off as a joke. Shortly after Mason released the album former Time Out Chicago editor in chief Frank Sennett dragged up a point he made in his book Groupon's Biggest Deal Ever—that Mason sticks to a bit no matter what—that makes the very idea of Mason going through the motions of releasing his album sound like a genius joke.

Hardly Workin' is polished and it has an old-school bro-rock vibe that carries a hint of the kind of obsolescence that's in driver's ed videos from the 80s. Mason sings about Steve Jobs inventing his first mouse and cruising down Grand Avenue with such sincerity that it's difficult to tell where the joke ends or if it's even a joke—an execution that's pretty brilliant. While the existence of Hardly Workin' makes for a solid joke, it's not exactly one that's much fun to experience.

The biggest problem with Hardly Workin' is that its guiding principle of providing motivational business tips and advice doesn't really translate well lyrically. Mason's cheesy lyrics about finding inspiration in Mies Van Der Rohe and Debussy is a great riff on art made, first and foremost, to inform—things like clever rhymes and emotionally compelling couplets are tossed out in favor of something that beats the message into listeners' skulls. That's largely what happens throughout Hardly Workin', and the songs come out clunky or just plain difficult to listen to without pressing the pause button. Whether or not the album is a joke, Mason did make it to be heard, and the material on Hardly Workin' doesn't exactly compel anyone to keep playing it.

Shortly before Mason released it Mashable wrote that "insiders have described Hardly Workin' as sort of a Schoolhouse Rock for business people." The difference is the people who made Schoolhouse Rock could actually put together a song that sticks in your head for years on end—I still remember the chorus for "Conjunction Junction" decades after I first saw that cartoon. The one thing from Hardly Workin' that sticks out is how comically specific Mason gets while describing a newbie's first day at employee orientation on "Risin' Above the Pack"; it reminded me of a scene from Baseketball where a song on the radio unexpectedly describes the movie's narrative in detail, and when I first heard "Risin' Above the Pack" I switched it off mid-song to track down the aforementioned scene on YouTube. Baseketball is not a great movie, but it's far more memorable than Hardly Workin'. I admire Mason for his ability to stick to an idea like this album to the end, regardless of whether or not it's actually a joke, but it'd take real work to actually enjoy the music on this album beyond its conceptual framework.

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