You might want to sit down before reading this, but the pot-bellied Prince parody seems to have *grown up* since his last incarnation in You Can Feel Me. This maturity seems true musically, anyway: anyone who writes the couplet “we’re in motion / we brought lotion” can’t be that far off puberty. From the lyrics, it is business as usual in the ‘Lothario’ sense; most songs have their dials firmly set to ‘Pervert.’ They’d look down your shirt and up your skirt and anywhere your mother told you not to let vaguely creepy men look at. Even if you’re a man. Har Mar Superstar seems to have spent the last year listening to early Prince, Stevie Wonder, and seemingly, Hall and Oates, although I’m sure the Hall and Oates was purely ironic. Honestly. He’s also dragged a host of famous mates into this sordid world of 80’s synthesizers and bulging bass. Karen O and Nick Zinner (Yeah Yeah Yeahs), rappers Northern State (me neither) and even pop tart and occasional Neighbors actress Holly Valance pop up on a couple of songs, the little harlot. Anyway, Har Mar seems less enthused with electric bleeping and squelching this time around, swapping it for some surprisingly authentic soul, R&B and some hilariously bad rapping.

Love him or hate him, you can’t deny Har Mar’s ability to get the party started. The first thing you think when you hear the opening synthesizers of “Transit” is that he’s copied this off “Let’s Go Crazy” from Purple Rain. The money he spent on production really pops its head up here: the song sounds clean, fresh and sexy and the mixture of bongos, Stevie Wonder pianos, Jackson 5 vocals and Wham! bass forces you to go out and scream “Where’s the party at?” at people. Actually, don’t do that. “Body Request” sounds like the funktacular son of Flashdance mixed with Footloose and then pumped with cocktails with sparklers in it, possibly in a nightclub called Rio Nites or Spangles or something. It’s not Morrissey, at any rate. If you haven’t heard “DUI” yet, I don’t want to be your friend: The most radio-friendly jam Har Mar has ever produced should be on the national curriculum, under ‘Fantastic song studies’. “DUI” sounds impossibly like the Jackson 5, and is therefore brilliant. Even the weird falsetto rapping halfway through can’t touch the groove the song generates.

Crikey! Everything goes all Fischerspooner (remember them?) on “Cut Me Up”! Karen O verbally spars with our favorite funkateer over something generated out of a broken Casio found in a skip. Its X-rated vocals, moans and groans will have mothers the world over reaching for the pen and paper to write very stern letters. Keep that one on the top shelf, next to all the Penthouses and Playboys, is my advice. “Sugar Pie” is basically every Stevie Wonder song ever written, complete with string section and vocal gyrations to put Justin Timberlake to shame. “As (seasons)” is one of the weaker songs on The Handler, a sub-Usher flick through the ‘Big Book of R&B Clichés.’ Crap guitar bit? Check! Vaguely Hispanic sound? Check! You’re better than this, Har Mar. Next song “Save the Strip” is also a bit rubbish: the same forgettable boy-band vibe, although with some pretty filthy lyrics.

”O” is where it gets sad. Imagine “Take My Breath Away” done by Duran Duran and Boyz 2 Men, and you’re halfway there. In a single stroke, the Har Mar facade has been broken: he parties all night, and cries in the morning. It’s a good song, and even a little tear jerking. Don’t cry Har Mar, we love you … Ah! Back to funk excellence with “Back The Camel Up.” The first line ”All the panties you’ve been throwing on stage / I still got them” pretty much sums up Har Mar, and think “Killing An Arab” by The Cure as done by Missy Elliot and you’ve got the right sort of tune. “Bird in the Hand” and “Back in the Day” are like a lot of other songs on the album, mourning ladies lost, and celebrating new ones. If The Handleris a big night out, then “Alone Again (Naturally)” is the black-hole hangover the next day: a subdued, bleeping rage against love, sex and romance (but especially sex). A strange end to an overwhelmingly hyperactive album, but as it’s a good song, we’ll let it off.

So is The Handler deserving of your hard-earned money? On the whole, yes. There’s some fantastic pop here, and the music will appeal to 30-somethings wanting to relive their early-eighties childhood, or even teenagers wanting something a bit more mature than the usual boy band pap floating around. It’s also the perfect party album; it’s got the most lovable pervert in the world writing the songs and the most bloated production values for twenty years. Really, what’s not to love?

(Record Collection Music)

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