Photo: Cortney Armitage

Did Andrew W.K. dream, back in the early ’00s, that he’d still be making music and wearing those dirty white jeans nearly two decades later? He seemed, even to those of us who loved him from the start, destined to be locked in that time and place—his glorious shtick burdened with an obvious expiration date. This was the guy who encouraged the world to party till they puked and also to party hard, and who let us know, in no uncertain terms, that it was indeed time to party. And he did it with superhuman energy, not just on his records—particularly the classic debut I Get Wet—but in interviews and fan interactions, where he would engage with a drive and mania that would have felt overzealous and insincere coming from almost anybody else. Like a hurricane or earthquake, he would clearly not last. How could he?

The years between then and now seemed to bear out that thought: Subsequent albums weren’t met with the same enthusiasm as I Get Wet, and W.K. was embroiled in some kind of lawsuit—details are murky—that kept him from releasing music. When he did put out albums—rock sets as well as a solo-piano disc, and bizarre covers of J-pop songs—they didn’t have the cultural impact that his other activities did: He got more press as a TV personality and a touring motivational speaker (true!) than he had as a musician, at least in a while. There’s reason to believe that things got a bit dark for W.K. during that time as well: I saw him a few years ago, and the whole vibe just seemed off—edgy, negative, and weird, entirely unlike the persona he had birthed to create positivity and joy in the world.

It’s apparent from the lyrics on You’re Not Alone—the first Andrew W.K. album of bona fide rock music in nearly a decade—that he returns to his roots scarred and smarter. Partying, he has discovered, is a three-dimensional activity: It’s not just hedonism or escapism, but rather a mind-and-body state of being that can ultimately lead to happiness. In addition to a pack of his best songs since I Get Wet, he brings with him a trio of spoken-word interludes that further expand on his philosophy, and as stupid as that might sound on paper—and even on first listen—it makes sense in the world of Andrew W.K. It’s done, like everything he does, without consideration or acknowledgement of cynicism, internal or external. I imagine that if somebody witheringly told Andrew W.K. that he was a cartoon, he’d thank them sincerely and then go off for 20 minutes about his favorite Looney Tunes episodes. His confidence is unassailable and contagious. He would convince you.

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And—I’m as surprised as you are—the new songs get there, too. As always, Andrew W.K. builds anthems brick by brick, reinforcing huge choruses with multi-tracked vocals and earworm piano lines, all the better to make you feel like a participant as much as a listener. And the subjects are familiar but universal: “Music Is Worth Living For” is an ode to his first love and a mission statement for You’re Not Alone. (“Music makes life worth living,” he declares, along with the more pointed, “Music makes me want to stay alive.”) Thoughts of survival run through the rest of the record as well, turning what might have been platitudes—or might still be platitudes, depending on your state of mind—into relatable, empowering statements, as if he’s the Tony Robbins of shiny party-metal. “I learned a lot from my trip to the dark side,” he intones on “Ever Again,” and suggests on “Keep On Going” that “everything is somehow gonna be all right.” It’s simple, and sometimes that’s all that’s required. It can be silly, too, but since when is that a negative?

I don’t listen to Andrew W.K.’s music all that often anymore, and I don’t know how often I’ll head for You’re Not Alone in the future. But as with Andrew W.K. himself, I’m glad to know that it exists, whether it’s currently occupying my ears or not. His message of relentless enthusiasm and carpe-ing the shit out of the diem was and remains inspiring. If you don’t get it, maybe it’s just not your time to party. He’d be okay with that. But he’ll probably be around when you’re ready.

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