Always one to come out of left field, August Darnell's (a.k.a. Kid Creole) I Wake Up Screaming is his first album in six years, and easily one of his best since the early '80s. Full of references to his long musical career and a complete revival of the sound that made early Kid Creole & The Coconuts records so appealing, I Wake Up Screaming contains the kind of fun, Caribbean-influenced madness that only Darnell can deliver.
Still, a large part of why the record works is because it isn’t just a retread of the past, but instead a reworking of it through a contemporary lens. Joining Darnell on this album and sharing production duties are Hercules & Love Affair's Andy Butler and Chinatown label head Brennan Green. The resulting music brings to mind Dancing For the Cabana Crowd in the Land of Boo Hoo, the album released last year by one-time Darnell collaborator Coati Mundi. Nu-disco aesthetics mingle with faux-big band tropical disco to create an endearing record that's out-and-out fun from beginning to end.
Kid Creole's record starts with the appropriate "Stony and Cory," a song that references Darnell's time in seminal '70s disco group Dr. Buzzard’s Original Savannah Band. The song creatively repurposes the aesthetic of that band's most well known song, "Cerchez La Femme/Se Si Bon," to tell the story of the doomed relationship between lead vocalist Cory Daye and guitarist Stony Browder. It's a fitting intro as the collapse of that band is entirely responsible for the creation of Kid Creole & The Coconuts. It also sets the stage for the kinds of theatrics that run through all of Darnell's work, and are in no short supply here.
I Wake Up Screaming is at its best when it updates Kid Creole's more dancefloor-oriented material. "Verily, Verily, Verily"'s mad calypso rhythm, slide guitar, and chanted vocals bring to mind both "Annie I’m Not Your Daddy" and Coati Mundi’s "Que Pasa/Mi No Pop I." Similarly, "Attitude" combines a more straightforward disco aesthetic (complete with Niles Rogers-esque guitar stabs), with wacky marimbas and Afro-Caribbean percussion.
Also worth mentioning is lead single "I Do Believe," which exhibits Darnell taking a crack at a more conventional disco cut, albeit with an unconventional vocal. Darnell intones a supernatural narrative about aliens, conspiracy theories, and other strange phenomena over a bouncing disco bassline and four-on-the-floor drums. In less capable hands, it would likely come off as cheesy, but the song instead takes a sarcastic tack similar to "Disco Clone" by Darnell's one time Ze label mate Christina.
The only stumbling point for I Wake Up Screaming is when Kid Creole's occasionally over-the-top theatricality goes a little further than it should. One such moment is the ridiculous "Long Live The King," which sounds like Darnell parodying the fantasy posturing of Yes. That said, Darnell is entirely aware of his own bravado, and it's that bravado, along his willingness to keep tongue in cheek, that makes I Wake Up Screaming such a worthwhile listen.