Maybe it shouldn’t be surprising that a 21-year-old would make a record this unrefined, self-indulgent, pretentious, and, well . . . immature. What’s really infuriating about it is that so many fawning journalists are falling over themselves to praise this kid. Sean Na Na’s press release even goes so far as to label him “the new Stevie Wonder,” a claim that makes me wonder how anyone has reached adulthood without actually hearing a Stevie Wonder record.
First off, there’s the voice. Like another young, bespectacled Sean (that would be Mr. Lennon), Sean Na Na has a high, thin voice that is about as fun to listen to as nails running along a chalkboard. To his credit (?), he has created his own unique brand of singing to showcase his spectacularly bad voice. A compact, one-syllable word like “see” is stretched out to become “see-hee-hee” even though it doesn’t need to be-hee-hee. This odd pronunciation trick not only attempts to mask Sean’s inability to convey emotion with his voice, but it also creates the correct scheme of syllabics to make the words rhyme just a bit.
At times, it seems that he has some talent for creating vivid imagery, such as when he sings in “Lonely Moon” of a man who likes his vodka sours “stiff just like the cardboard they’re sitting on.” Most of the time, though, the imagery is self-consciously offbeat and unaffecting, such as, “Like false teeth in the wrong face I could see it end” (“Little Leaning Tower”). Purposely odd imagery aside, the songs are also full of self-pity (e.g., “Try not to fuck without me next time”), self-references, and cynicism. Someone is sure to argue that it’s all savvy self-parody, post-modernism, blah-blah-blah, but it’s damn boring when anyone makes music for reasons other than the sheer joy of expression.
Call it a truly beautiful example of irony, then, when Sean Na Na sings (in “Mezcal”), “sing a song so sad and blue that people run and fawn for you.” He could be singing about himself. Perhaps that’s on purpose — that would be so clever and post-modern.