'Fear of Death' Review: Tim Heidecker meditates on inevitability of death and finding comfort in acceptance
Comedian, writer, director, actor, and musician Tim Heidecker returns to music over a year after his album 'What the Broken-Hearted Do...' with his latest project titled 'Fear of Death', a concept album featuring members of Foxygen, The Lemon Twigs and Weyes Blood, released on September 25 via Spacebomb Records.
Heidecker is an artiste who wears many hats. He is most widely known for being one half of the comedy duo Tim & Eric, along with Eric Wareheim, but he has also acted in several films including 2011's 'Bridesmaids', 2018's 'Ant-Man and the Wasp' and 2019's 'Us'. At present, Heidecker co-hosts a parodic film review web series called 'On Cinema' and stars in the comedy series 'Decker'.
While his acting might be more widely known, Heidecker is also quite the musician with his foray into music beginning in the 2008 Ben Folds and Regina Spektor music video for 'You Don't Know Me'. Heidecker also occasionally sang and wrote lyrics for the 'Awesome Show', with Davin Wood composing and music from the first two seasons of the show were released in 2008.
Wood and Heidecker eventually formed a duo and released a '70s-inspired soft rock album, 'Starting From Nowhere', in 2011, followed by their second album, 'Some Things Never Stay the Same', in 2013. The duo cited Randy Newman, Warren Zevon, Harry Nilsson and Boz Scaggs as musical influences.
The year 2012 saw Heidecker hone his craft and blend his brand of comedy with his developing music style, beginning with a parody campaign jingle for Herman Cain's presidential bid titled 'Cain Train'. This, along with eight other tracks, would eventually become the album 'Cainthology: Songs in the Key of Cain'. Proceeds from this release benefitted the Violence Intervention Program.
Over 2012 and 2013, Heidecker also released several Bob Dylan parodies that both paid homage to and spoofed Dylan's work. At the end of 2013, Heidecker dropped the algum 'Urinal St Station' with his band, The Yellow River Boys. Wood and Heidecker teamed up again to compose and perform 'Weatherman' for the 2014 film 'The Age of Reason' as well as the single 'Jambalaya'.
Finally, in 2016, Heidecker dropped his solo album 'In Glendale', and followed it up with 2017's 'Too Dumb for Suicide: Tim Heidecker's Trump Songs'. 2019's 'What the Broken-Hearted Do...' saw Heidecker set aside the comedic leanings of his earlier work and opt for the more satirical and misanthropic elements of his style layered on top of his soft rock sound, delivering, with honesty and conviction, eleven songs revolving around relationships and heartbreak.
Needless to say, Heidecker is no stranger to experimentation, and certainly has no fear when it comes to playing around with his style. Just like the morose theme of a contentious breakup on 2019's 'What the Brokenhearted Do…', which chronicled a fictional divorce from his wife and the accompanying depression, 'Fear of Death' puts Heidecker squarely in the tradition of comedians and actors like Steve Martin, Hugh Laurie and Donald Glover, eschewing his funny side in his music and leaving the jokes for the screen.
With Weyes Blood’s Natalie Mering joining Heidecker for backing vocals on the album, and singing principal on the track 'Oh How We Drift Away', we’re left with no doubt about this being an earnest departure from comedy and a collection of songs to take seriously. "Get ready, because you’re about to feel." That’s what Heidecker warns on 'Fear of Death's opening track, 'Prelude to Feeling'. And he means it. This is a "Serious Album about Serious Topics" – a doomed future, abandoning life in the city, and, you guessed it, the inevitability of death – and without a warning, those feelings might just sneak up on you.
"I didn’t know that Fear of Death was going to be so focused on death when I was writing it," Heidecker says. "It took a minute for me to stand back and look at what I was talking about to realize that, yes, I am now a middle-aged man and my subconscious is screaming at me: 'You are getting old, dude! You are not going to live forever! Put down that cheeseburger!’"
We first saw a glimpse of Heidecker and Mering performing together in the summer of 2019 when a video of the pair singing 'Let it Be' backstage at a charity event went viral. But their story began earlier that year when Heidecker, having just become familiar with the singer, hosted her as a guest on his Office Hours Live podcast, on which they sang their first impromptu duet. Weyes Blood keyboardist Drew Erickson heard the duet and, while all backstage at a show, proposed going into the studio together. "This was a Thursday night," recalls Heidecker. "We were recording on MONDAY. The rest of the story is on the record."
"Drew was the perfect co-conspirator," Heidecker says. "He knew all the right people to come play with us, and he had impeccable musical chops and taste! And Natalie, I believe, is a generational singer/songwriter, a major talent who glided into this project with so much grace and a good attitude. I think she could harmonize with a doorstop and make it sound dreamy."
The all-star band on 'Fear of Death' includes The Lemon Twigs’ Brian & Michael D’Addario, frequent collaborator Jonathan Rado, and string arrangements by Spacebomb’s Trey Pollard (Foxygen, Bedouine, The Waterboys, Natalie Prass). The resulting record is Heidecker’s biggest sounding and fleshed out album yet, featuring winding guitar, slow-building percussion, gentle keys, and a 14-piece string ensemble. The album’s lead single, 'Fear of Death', is “about as ‘Dead’ as I get,” says Heidecker. Over an intricate guitar line, Heidecker and Mering’s vocals intertwine seamlessly as he swears off partying and risky decisions: “I don’t see the value in having fun // I think I’m done growing // fear of death is keeping me alive.”
Where 'Fear of Death' is an upbeat take on avoiding potentially fatal choices and avoiding death, 'Nothing' comes to terms with it. The band nods to J.J. Cale in the bluesy and smoky 'Say Yes To Me' and The Faces in the uptempo ode to country living, 'Come Away With Me', and the album’s haunting and sad closer 'Oh How We Drift Away' began as a Bernie Taupin/Elton John-style writing experiment, with Heidecker supplying the words and Mering setting them to music. "I was very interested in trying to do something big in scope and otherworldly," Heidecker says. "I hope it leaves you thinking."
Simply put, it's an album about death, sure. But while this is serious music about serious topics, it’s not all doom and gloom. Heidecker says, "I hope my observations and meditations on death, the afterlife, the future, while at times a little dark and grim, offer a little comfort and catharsis for some people, as I don’t think I’m the only one who occasionally thinks about this stuff."
"This record is a dream come true for me,” shares Heidecker. "I got to work with some of the best, and nicest, musicians in town who helped me take some shabby, simple tunes and turn them into something I’m really proud of." Occasionally, an idea with the shabbiest, simplest beginnings will grow into something more special than ever intended.
With 'Fear of Death', Heidecker and his band of friends have achieved just that. Listening to this record, it's hard not to recognize the truth inherent in the notion that comedians and artists understand grief in a way others may not. Heidecker, evidently, falls under this category. 'Fear of Death' is a wonderfully earnest meditation on death. Not one that sparks nihilism, but on the contrary, encourages acceptance and learning to make peace with what is inevitable.