A Not-So-Normal Album


Caroline Restrepo, Writer

I have been something of a Will Wood fan since 2020, one of the many newcomers to him and his group, called “Will Wood and the Tapeworms.” With a name like that, it’s hard to imagine what their sound might be like. Will Wood himself is somewhat of an enigma; he’s very closed off about his personal life and often gives outright conflicting information about himself to others. He doesn’t even have a personal social media. However, he’s managed to stay relevant for years. “The Normal Album,” released in 2020, was how many in the “Gen Z” age range first found him, including myself. In a time when so many people were struggling with mental health and socializing, The Normal Album was meant for everyone stuck inside. Its themes of mental health, morality, and identity made it an album you could listen to over and over before truly understanding the meaning. It also covers a wide range of genres, not afraid to mix them up and do something new. If you like biting sarcasm, social commentary, the doo-wop music of the 50’s, new wave of the 80’s, or incredible piano playing, there’s something for you in “The Normal Album.”

Suburbia Overture / Greetings from Mary Bell Township! / (Vampire) Culture / Love Me, Normally: Get used to long names. They will get shorter from here, but brevity is not a staple of Will Wood’s music. However, this song gained such a title from four distinct sections. This song is a good introduction to the album overall. It’s heavy on social commentary, especially concerning suburban life. The tune is distinctly reminiscent of the 50’s, with a slow but upbeat tune. This serves as juxtaposition to lines comparing the suburbs to a warzone or irradiated wasteland. In a way, that’s the point. It’s a criticism of the bland and shiny surface of suburban life with a completely rotten core. There’s also a part in the second pre-chorus using the lines, “Everyone knows that nobody knows that, Everybody’s all up in my, everybody’s all up in my, Everybody’s all up in my business.” This will come back later, but it’s not yet important. The chorus reaches notes that I wasn’t aware a man could hit, delivered with flawless falsetto. The entire song is incredible in terms of vocals and covers Will Wood’s huge range. Not only in what he can reach, but what he can make himself sound like. You see, the song soon slows down with just him and his piano. This is only the halfway point.

The song gives you a sort of “musical jump scare” with the sudden return of all the instrumentation and a total change in vocals. Will’s voice is what I can only describe as frightening or demonic, fitting for a portion called “(Vampire) Culture.” The lyrics are also far clearer in calling out the “American dream” way of living. The number of lines simply telling you directly that the culture is terrible makes it impossible not to hear. The energy bounces back quickly with the “Love Me, Normally” section. Once again, it’s just Will and his piano playing a tune that will come up later. Will Wood tends to reuse tunes within his albums to connect tracks. This part is a reference to the later track “Love, Me Normally.” The placement of a comma may seem trivial, but it was an intentional decision that changed the meaning of the titles. Speaking of references to later songs, the next track lacks some of these elements.

2econd 2ight 2eer (that was fun, goodbye.): To be honest, the title sums up my opinions entirely. This song is a blast, with a tune to move to and fast-talking lyrics that make it incredibly fun to sing along to. The lyrics are all about morality, but you wouldn’t realize it on your first listen. Will Wood’s piano skills get a whole 30 seconds out of a song that is already just breaking three minutes, and it’s as much fun to hear as it sounds. The energy of this song is infectious; I caught myself dancing several times while writing. The song even ends with the phrase at the end of the title. “Well that was fun, goodbye” is stated incredibly casually when compared to the bombastic instrumental ending, but I believe that’s the most fitting ending for this song. It’s catchy, short, and fun.

Laplace’s Angel (Hurt People? Hurt People!): With a title based on a thought experiment regarding determinism and free will, you know this one has a lot of meaning. This song was originally a single, but it was included in the album along with “Love, Me Normally” and “…well, better than the alternative,” other singles included in the final album. This song also has a rather dark tone, both in the music itself and the lyrics. The lyrics concern the “Laplace’s Demon” article on whether the universe is deterministic. Essentially, if an all-powerful and all-knowing being does exist, then free will cannot also exist. I won’t delve too much into it since this is about music and not quantum physics, but it is certainly handled with a bit of sarcasm on Will’s part. He’s essentially judging those who will claim both that bad days are just a result of luck, but all good things are a result of their own choices. Essentially, what defines free will or fate, and how does that affect good and evil actions? Certainly, something to think about.

The music is again wonderful. The xylophone, piano, and guitars playing quietly really allow the music to build up to a final explosion of sound with the trumpets and saxophone from the very beginning returning. An eerie vibe is really achieved, and Will’s singing only enhances it. His natural voice is very smooth and works well in slow songs when he can show it off. The best example comes up later, but there are more to come before that.

I/Me/Myself: What if the Beach Boys discussed gender? If you’ve ever had that question, this song is for you! The tune is extremely reminiscent of the Beach Boys, with Will Wood playing up his voice in certain parts in a cheesy, almost annoying way. However, it’s again done intentionally and adds a certain charm to it. The song discusses themes of gender identity, specifically how Will Wood feels like the expectations of society forced him into an identity rather than freeing him. Fans tend to do this with their favorite artists, theorizing if a song or presentation has some hidden meaning about a person’s sexuality or gender identity despite not actually knowing the person. Will Wood is no exception. He sometimes chooses to present himself in a very feminine manner, with heavy makeup and women’s clothing and accessories. He identifies as male, but so many people assumed he couldn’t be that it started changing his own self-perception. Thus, the lyrics have a certain amount of venom to them. He’s acknowledged that the ending line, “All identities are equally invalid, don’t you think that there’s a chance that you could live without it?” could be taken in the wrong way, but they are pure self-expression coming from emotion you can feel.

Really, that’s the beauty of almost all of Will’s songs. The feelings in them are clear and full of heart, even if it isn’t clear at first. For example…

…well, better than the alternative: This song focuses on a father raising his daughter, something Will Wood has never experienced. He has no plans to have children in the future, either. You might think it difficult, then, that he could make something touching using this premise. You’d be very wrong. Will knocks it out of the park with this song.

The melody in this one is very soft and simple, contrasting with the heavy lyrics about growing up in a hostile society, coming back to the overarching theme of the album. Being strange or different is difficult, and the father figure Will represents here is one of those many people. It draws on the artist’s own struggles with mental health, allowing him to put real feeling into a narrative he’s created. At its core, this song is a plea to be loved by someone despite your flaws while simultaneously being afraid of being loved. Just wanting someone to play along with your desire for connection. It may have simpler music, but the lyrics here are incredibly poignant.

Outliars and Hyppocrates: a fun fact about apples: Another fun song loaded with philosophy, Outliars and Hyppocrates is spelled that way on purpose and is essentially discussing the way that mentally ill people are treated by others. There are messages about how certain medical professionals look down on the mentally ill, which makes sense with the title considering that Hippocrates was one of the first to suggest that sickness wasn’t a divine punishment. The larger meaning is that part of the reason that mental illness is so taboo is because part of what humanity strives for isn’t natural. Anything not normal within our culture and social constructs is seen as wrong. Will posits that an objective understanding is impossible for humanity, so why bother fitting in? He further suggests that the reason others notice they aren’t within the norm is because they see how people react to them. To take a line from a previous track, “My witness brings me into existence” explains the lyrics in this song quite well.

Overall, this song is a delight to listen to. Instead of the piano showing off her, you get some wonderful guitar work courtesy of Mike Bottiglieri. The brass section in 2econd 2ight 2eer also returns, and the whole thing has a very Latin pop/jazz feel. It also has a couple of breaks from the music that really work in a way I can’t quite describe. So, I’ll move on to the next tracks.

BlackBoxWarrior – OKULTRA: This is a song to scare new fans with. The whole thing is basically Will showing off his skills with the piano and his vocals with a waltz inspired track and very difficult articulation to master. The lyrics are largely meaningless in this one, mainly consisting of wordplay or medical terms that culminate around the 3 minute mark in a huge monologue over a piano solo. Much like previous songs, Will is a master of setup and payoff. The whole song builds and builds from a fast-paced waltz, settles down around the bridge, then hits you all at once with the maximum energy it can offer, with the singer belting almost every line. I feel it serves the same purpose as 2econd 2ight 2eer. It’s incredibly fun to dance to or sing along with BlackBoxWarrior, and it serves as a break between the deeper songs. Don’t skip this one.

Marsha, Thankk You for the Dialectics, but I Need You to Leave: I’m not sure why there’s a second K, or why this title is just a full sentence, but I am sure that this track is great. It’s essentially a conversation between two people struggling with mental health. One from a person who has incorporated mental illness into their identity or sort of based themselves around that part of them. The other is the view of an older person more of the other extreme, that mental illness doesn’t need treatment and that you just need to “tough it out.” Neither is framed as more correct since both extremes ultimately lead to harm but seeing this back and forth play out is very interesting.

I mentioned how I love Will Wood’s use of buildup, but this song is it. It’s the most climactic of them all. The bridge in this one following an excellent instrumental is incredible, beginning slow and picking up pace to lead into an incredible final chorus. The worst part about it, to me, is that it ends so soon. However, interestingly, the piano riff from BlackBoxWarrior then plays and leads into a final verse that seems to be from the point of view of a therapist seeing the situation. This song may seem impossible to top, but The Normal Album has a way of shaking up your expectations.

Love, Me Normally: I would say this is a classic love song, but this is far from classic. It feels like this could be something by Elton John, but the lyrics are very unusual. After all, the whole thing is about wishing he were more normal in the eyes of others. He wants to be loved in “exactly the way that everybody else is.” Normally, love songs focus entirely on how unique someone is and loving them for or despite their flaws and rough edges. It’s surprising, but I think it’s the most natural thing to do in an album like this one. I can also count the number of times I’ve heard a singer directly challenge God in a song on one hand, so that certainly makes it stand out.

I haven’t mentioned music videos before now mostly because I wanted only to review the music, but this one needs to be mentioned. I can’t confirm this, but I believe the whole thing is a reference to an interview on Late Night with James Nuzzo and Eric Dargis. It was a truly chaotic interview, with a description of segments from the producers themselves claiming that “The interview gets a little hectic, as the show begins to fall apart.” In the music video, a confident Will Wood turns what should’ve been a normal late-night interview into a chaotic mess while the host slowly loses hope in trying to control him. If it really is a reference, it’s a brilliant move done for longtime fans.

Love, Me Normally must be my favorite song in the album. Will Wood really has room to use his voice to his fullest, and the beautiful vocals I brought up for Laplace’s Angel are on display here. I could replay this song over and over and never get tired of it. However, I can only rave so much about this song. There’s still one more song left to cover.

Memento Mori: the most important thing in the world: “One day you’ll look up at the ceiling above, if you’re lucky you’ll be surrounded by the ones that you love when, the lights in your eyes fade and life flashes by, one day you’re going to die.” It’s not exactly the most uplifting of introductions, is it? Well, this ragtime song is surprisingly hopeful. The message is that death is nothing to be worried about. It’s natural, and it’s going to happen sooner or later, so there’s no reason to be anxious while you’re alive. It puts an optimistic spin on the things people usually fear about death. You’ll never know your legacy, and future generations probably won’t know much about you anyway. Instead of moping about that and assuming that life without inherent meaning must be terrible, Will suggests that you should instead focus on living as you like and not worrying about if you’re “wasting it” based on arbitrary achievements.

A song about death is an interesting way to end an album, but it certainly works out. Ragtime was another unexpected influence, but I really enjoy the contrast of something associated with older, upbeat music being used to casually discuss something that most people see as the heaviest topic one can cover. It’s just a wonderfully fitting way to end such an odd yet spectacular album.