A strong and relatively recent put-down you can extend to someone is that they’re not staying in their lane. For a country rooted in car culture, like the United States, it’s the ultimate insult. While we disagree about so much as a nation, we’re all pretty much on the same page with the rules of the road. So if you’re not staying in your lane, you’re some kind of monster.
As of late, the statement is used against political speech coming from someone outside of politics. So while viewers and ratings encourage cable networks to run non-stop bloviating from a ridiculous number of people most of us have never heard of, the second a musician or athlete comments on our shared society, they’ve left the lane from which they are never supposed to leave, ignoring the fact that engineers designed roads for changing lanes. In fact, car manufacturers equip every car with a device to indicate when we’re changing lanes, so common is this driving event.
It’s easy to say Popa Chubby’s Tinfoil Hat is a musician not staying in his lane because he takes on politics and current events, from Donald Trump to Covid-19. It feels charged even though musicians communicating this kind of commentary used to be a common occurrence. Part of what feels jarring is that Chubby, born Ted Horowitz, uses a stage name that’s slang for an erection. It’s hard to reconcile political lyrics against a name used by middle school boys on the sign-in sheet sent around by the substitute teacher.
But Chubby has had political commentary in his songs before and, more importantly than that precedent, he’s an artist living in the world who has every right to express opinions through his music. The challenge of Tinfoil Hat, as you might guess from the title, is that the messages are so explicit and direct, making the album feel more like one of the aforementioned cable news hits, than a musical journey.
For instance, the title track begins “I got no hand sanitizer / Don’t need no mask / I’m good to take on any task,” eventually mentioning that the song’s narrator gets all of their news from Fox. It’s a familiar argument that’s played out around countless dinner tables and family Zooms for years, if not longer, making it feel more like transcription than a song. The title tips the heart of the song on “Baby Put On Your Mask,” which is about the importance of mask-wearing, even as Chubby asks someone to take off their clothes.
Luckily, Chubby always delivers the goods musically. His singing and guitar work is always a treat, but here, because of the pandemic, he handles all of the instruments. His backing tracks for himself are strong; I didn’t realize he played everything himself until I got to the liner notes. And he rips some gorgeous solos. “No Justice No Peace,” a blues metal tune, has a scorch-the-earth solo. And “Can I Call You My Friends,” with some intense drums, in pure rock and roll, sounding like a bluesy Foo Fighters. It’s also Chubby’s strongest vocal performance of the album.
Tinfoil Hat comes out of Chubby’s personal experiences of the pandemic. He was on the road in Florida when his tour abruptly ended, forcing him to drive back to his New York home base. Like so many, he was stuck at home with nothing to do, so he channeled that energy into this album. And even if the execution isn’t for everyone, you have to appreciate an artist putting themselves out there, creating music out of tragedy, and sharing their world view with us.
Chubby doesn’t stay in his lane, which makes for a much more interesting drive for all of us.
The Review: 6.5/10
Can’t Miss Tracks
– No Justice No Peace
– Someday Soon (A Change Is Gonna Come)
– Can I Call You My Friends
The Big Hit
– Can I Call You My Friends