2776 is a weird bit of comedy. Conceived by Rob Kutner (The Daily Show) and Joel and Stephen Levinson (The Tonight Show, Comedy Central), it’s a 73-minute concept album that begins 1,000 years after America’s founding and finds an alien (Martha Plimpton) bent on destroying the nation. At the top of the album, the current president (Will Forte) lays out the plot, promising he’ll “take the alien back in time on a musical journey through America’s proud history, proving we’re a civilization worth saving.”
It’d take too much space to list the entire 2776 cast, but suffice to say it’s damn impressive. A small sampling: Patton Oswalt, Paul F. Tompkins, Maria Bamford, Reggie Watts and Ed Helms, along with musicians including Yo La Tengo, Neko Case, Andrew W.K., Aimee Mann, Eric Johnson and Conan’s Basic Cable Band.
Spanning 28 tracks, the quality of the songs and bits fluctuates throughout, some notables being “Escape from New York,” a comic-laden rap about the destruction of the city via gentrification, Mann’s “I’m Cured,” a breakup song from the point of view of the common-cold virus and “These Aren’t the Droids,” a duet sung by Case and Kate Hogan lamenting a future designed by teenage boys.
Considering 2776’s proceeds go to OneKid OneWorld, which provides education for children in Kenya and El Salvador, it’s hard to knock any aspect of the album. It’s an amazing feat that Kutner and the Levinsons were able to assemble such a diverse and wide-ranging roster of talent (Dick Cavett and Margaret Cho on the same track, anyone?) The fact that so many people contributed to the album’s production, to borrow a cliché, provides something for everyone. That said, it’s hard not to wish there was a bit more cohesion. Other than a handful of tracks (“Plot Song 1,” “Plot Song 2,” “Finale”), there isn’t much that really digs into the album’s central story. Sure, all the songs loosely address the narrative thematically (“Not What the Founders Intended” and “Forget the Alamo,” for example), but they don’t directly tie into the heart of it.
The press release for 2776 makes clear that it is indeed a concept album and not a vehicle for telling a neatly plotted story. This framework gives the artists creative leeway, allowing for, say, a rap about newspaper comic strips or a Ramones-style jam about napping in the future, but it doesn’t make for a truly unified work. Surely the producers knew this; in enlisting so many creative voices over so many tracks, it’d have been nearly impossible to produce something that felt ordered and homogeneous. This doesn’t necessarily detract from the album’s quality or appeal, but it does make one wonder what could have been. Regardless, with so much talent and for such a good cause, 2776 is worth the price, whether one listens from start to finish or not.