The phrase ‘Michael Cera releases surprise solo album‘ drops anyone into a minefield of inevitable prejudices. We all fell in love with Superbad and Arrested Development-Cera, eventually got sick of one-trick pony mumble-core Cera in the following several years and movies, but grew to re-love him thanks to a brilliant cameo in This is the End. Now he’s got a solo album that’s – of course – low-fi, indie, and folksy, but still probably completely different than you’d expect.
If you go into it mournfully expecting the Juno soundtrack reprised, you will be pleasantly surprised. If you go into it excitedly expecting the Juno soundtrack reprised, you might be somewhat disappointed, although early Bandcamp reviews suggest you might still be pleasantly surprised. True That is plenty quirky, but not in a cartoonish, MPDG/sad-sack love-story cliché sort of way. Many of the instrumentals would be more at home in an art-house film than a disney-fied “indie movie.” Or, at least, he could totally score Mary & Max 2, if they made a sequel.
It takes proven indie formulas – piano ballads and waltzes with Eastern European chords, a vinyl-esque production quality, finger-picked guitars and low-register singing, blowing raspberries in lieu of a snare drum – and then twists them in psychedelic, late-MGMT ways when they seem to get too predictable. Even when this tactic goes into the deep-end, it’s refreshing, and often works when he brings it back to the original musical motifs.
While mostly instrumental, the album’s few lyrics are efficient – except on “What Gives,” which seems to feature the pre-adolescent girl in the picture on what could be generously (and adorably) be called “background vocals.” Cera’s Blaze Foley cover is straight-up singer-songwriter yarn-spinning, but it’s subtle changed with a hint of humor and wonderfully performed:
Meanwhile, “Ruth” tells a story that, while fiction, seems real enough to remind us that Cera isn’t the shlubby boy scout of his roles. After neurotically pondering tobacco’s simultaneous “mollifying” and “lung-tearing” properties, he embarks on a one-night-stand pity fuck in his “nine-dollar room” with a barfly who just endured a miscarriage. It’s unclear, but it’s possible she dies the morning after when falling out of the bed. Damn.
Whether you liked it or not, Cera made damn sure to avoid leaving a ‘been there, heard that’ impression. True That is more experimental and off-the-wall than anyone would expect, but it makes perfect sense. His previously mentioned self-awareness is the secret to his comedic strength. While his musical and on-stage personalities are both typecast, he gives a more honest (and less radio-friendly) version of it here. Remember that Cera is an actor, and a real human – he may be quite similar to the characters he plays, but there’s still more there. As such, this album makes a great attempt at showing these other parts of him.