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Album Tue Jul 02 2013

Andrew Mason's Hardly Workin': Music for the Office

andrew mason hardly workin'If you hadn't heard, Andrew Mason, founder and former CEO of Groupon, recorded an album of "music to help people get ahead in the workplace," called Hardly Workin', which was released late Monday night in the iTunes Music Store. I downloaded Hardly Workin' and listened to it carefully a couple times in order to share with you some initial thoughts, track by track.

1. Look No Further - The EP leads off with a contemporary country song about finding business inspiration in the world around you. Managing to rhyme Money, Fellini and day while also tossing in "the birthing of great octopi," its message could be as broad as any inspirational song if not for the references to Jack Welch and shareholder value.

2. The Way to Work - This track leads off with a reference to "Cruisin' down the Avenue Grand," reflecting on the work issues of recent days as he heads to work on his Vespa. The music recalls '80s rock, with a chugging beat and soaring chorus. The ride to work lets Mason clear his mind (who doesn't zone out on the way to the office?), and by the end of the song, he's resolved an HR problem that's been bugging him.

3. My Door Is Always Open - Mason channels "Rainbow Connection" on a touching duet with child singers Rebecca and Deanna Linck about coming to your boss with problems. It's a really nicely structured tune with a message that transcends business, and other than the more jargony closing refrain -- "In a culture of transparency / It's not just a right, it's a responsibility" -- it could easily fit in on a children's album.

4. Risin' Above the Pack - If you don't hear echoes of the Kansas classic "Carry On Wayward Son" on this track, you're just not listening. It sets the tone for a power anthem about standing out from your colleagues and the dangers of ambition. This could have been on the soundtrack of the Michael J. Fox vehicle The Secret of My Success and fit right in.

5. K.I.S.S. - Mason busts out Billy Joel (or Bruce "Bruno" Willis) style blues, replete with shooping backup singers, to explain the KISS principle. Is there irony in over-the-top production for a song about keeping it simple? Yep.

6. Stretch - The bouncy chorus on this one might stick in your head, as will the formula for determining stretch goals. The added 20 percent is delivered by Bishop Lamont, namedropping Berkshre Hathaway partner Charlie Munger as he asks, "Don't you want a mansion and a yacht like mine?" The grittier vocals (Mason sings through a megaphone, sounding a bit more like "One Night in Bangcock" than The Strokes.

7. It's Up to Us - Mason winds up his offering with an anthem worthy of the greatest company motivational video ever. Comparing the need to band together for everyone's success to George Washington "fighting to be free" after chopping down the cherry tree, the song is perhaps the most obvious parody on the album, while also one of the most plausible.

Mason has a degree in music, and the musicianship on the album is top-notch, thanks a session band put together by producer Don Gehman, who has worked with artists such as John Mellencamp, Loggins & Messina, Pat Benatar and Hootie and the Blowfish. The craftsmanship on the song helps Mason work his magic.

Mason's odd sense of humor and willingness to bring improv and comedy into the workplace are well documented, and it occasionally got him in trouble with corporate types who couldn't see the humor in work life. With Hardly Workin', he cements his reputation as a business-minded jokester, producing an album of songs with strong leadership messages, delivered with tongue slyly planted in cheek. The humor here may be too straight-faced for some to catch, but to me it's of a piece with the deadpan satire of "The Office." I could see Michael Scott of Dunder Mifflin popping this into the boom box at one of his team-building sessions.

As Frank Sennett writes in his book, Groupon's Biggest Deal Ever, "Absolute commitment to a bit regardless of audience response remains a hallmark of Mason's humor." If you're not in on this one, the joke isn't just on you, it might be about you.

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