Jul 10, 2007

There’s something inherently conflicting about the artistic work of the mentally disabled. In the case of Wesley Willis, for example, those of us who loved the repetitive, Casio odes to his favorite rock bands had to ask, “Is this stuff genuinely funny? Or am I laughing at this poor soul’s exploitation?” Of course this begged the question, “If he enjoys what he’s doing, who am I to protest?” The Kids of Widney High are, like Willis, mentally challenged in one way or another but unlike Willis, have the benefit of a fully functioning band to back them up. The results are not just competent, they’re admirable. And not admirable in a cloying, condescending sort of way—Act Your Age smacks of the same goofy humor one finds in early Camper Van Beethoven. But where that band made a conscious effort at being irreverent, the Kids of Widney High are simply trying to capture their day-to-day existence—fears, frustrations and all. Highlights include the punky “I Make My Teachers Mad” (“Throw chairs across the room/My teacher comes over and hits me with a broom/Throwing dumpsters down the hall/I hear my name being called”), the self-empowering “Miss Understood” (“When I walk down the street/People stop and stare/They don’t know what’s wrong with me/They make a mean face”) and the quasi-Calypso “Two Faces of Fidel,” a thoughtful analysis of Castro’s place in history. Most telling however, is the title track, a rote listing of (mostly) conventional advice given to children. You might be amazed how quickly tracks like “Life without the Cow” and “E-L-V-I-S” sink into your consciousness.

 –eric (Moon Man)