In 1959, when the so-called "sick humor" of Lenny Bruce, Mort Sahl, and Shelley Berman was the new rage among America's hipsters (and would-be hipsters), the acid-penned musical satire of Tom Lehrer doubtless seemed to be daring indeed, as he worked his audiences for laughs with tunes like "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park," "Oedipus Rex," and "The Masochism Tango." Thankfully Lehrer's humor still works well thanks to its considerable skill and its charm, even if its ability to shock isn't what it once was. Recorded before an enthusiastic audience at a concert at Harvard University (where Lehrer spent his days teaching mathematics), An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer finds him in superb form as a performer, able to dissect various musical forms for their comic potential with the skill of a surgeon and displaying not merely dead-on comic timing in his vocals but a easy élan as a pianist; for a guy who picked musical comedy as a part-time job, he sure had a knack for the trade. And while Lehrer's songs no longer shock, that's not to say they've entirely lost their sting, as the bitter twists of "Bright College Days," "It Makes a Fellow Proud to Be a Soldier," and "A Christmas Carol" hit their target just as well as ever, while inspiring no small amount of laughter. And it's worth noting that the album's final punch line, "We Will All Go Together When We Go," is just as apt today as it was in 1959, for good or ill. While the work of many of his contemporaries today sound like the products of their time and place, Lehrer's best songs are still slyly funny and corrosively charming, and An Evening Wasted with Tom Lehrer ranks with his finest work on record. ~ Mark Deming
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