I don’t know how the ukulele was invented, but after listening to this album I can only conclude it was the result of some evil warlock’s failed plot to shrink the hands of honest, hard-working Hawaiians everywhere; dooming them to pluck sad little mutant guitars forever. Considering the fact that “Cruisin’ Ukuleles” exists, I also conclude that this black magic is alive and well in the world, corrupting the hearts and souls of Pacific Islanders and annoying people worldwide.
The liner notes begin, “The arrangements on this recording come from an era when cruisin’ the drag and listening to music on the car radio was the hip thing to do. If you didn’t have ‘wheels’ you could always stop at the local hang out and hear those same special tunes on the jukebox. Let us take you back to an era when the music made us feel good. Come join us as we take you cruisin’ ukulele style.” After about ten seconds of play, it becomes clear that “cruisin’ ukulele style” constitutes a harrowing thrill-ride through the twisting mountain roads of pure, existential anguish.
Imagine a fifth-grade recorder festival. Now imagine the fifth-graders are all forty-year-old Canadians wearing fanny packs and tonelessly thrashing 112 ukuleles (literally) while a chorus of young girls chant Beach Boys lyrics in eerie, spiritless harmony. Take the whole scene and place it on stage at a yacht/barbeque/riding lawnmower convention and you begin to appreciate how difficult it is not to pass out while listening. “Cruisin’ Ukuleles” couldn’t be more banal if it was performed by an entire fleet of nine-year-old girls riding ponies.
The Ensemble’s perspective of American history is questionable. As far as I know, no jukebox playlist in this country has ever included the songs “He Ono La,” “Lahaina Luna” or “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” Ostensibly, the Langley Ukulele Ensemble is attempting to reinvigorate some vintage favorites with a fresh and quirky sound, but the end result is something akin to renovating a decrepit, classic automobile only to use that automobile to run over a troupe of boy scouts who are also orphans. The highlight of the whole album is “Four Chord Medley: Silhouettes / Blue Moon / Heart and Soul / Diana / Rama Lama Ding Dong,” a baffling ukulele mashup of five golden oldies that surpasses the Ensemble’s own precedent for inanity. I don’t know what “Rama Lama Ding Dong” means, but my best guess is that it’s Asshole for “we will not stop until we have destroyed everything you hold precious and beautiful.”
So if you like ukulele solos, “special tunes that make you feel good” and misery, Cruisin’ Ukuleles is for you. . As for me, I’m throwing my copy into the cold waters of the Puget Sound, where it will languish forever before the tiny, mercifully uncomprehending eyes of crabs.