Coming back this way again

Are the Twin Cities still big enough for Har Mar Superstar?

Keri Carlson

When does a joke stop being funny?

Sean Tillman adapted the persona of a sultry pop star who takes home just as many chicks from the club as Usher. It’s funny because Tillman is exactly the opposite of Usher: white, hairy and chubby. Not exactly the guy you picture being a player.

To add to the humor, Tillman named himself after a sleazy Roseville mall and sang lines like “Baby do you like my clothes? Cuz I sure don’t like yours/ Unless they’re down on the floor.”

The joke was funny, especially live when Har Mar Superstar stripped down to his tightie-whities. But an artist needs more than just a good joke, there has to be something redeeming to the music. This came from Har Mar’s vocals – soulful crooning with a kind of teenage boy-band innocence (when you don’t pay attention to the lyrics). But it was the beats provided by local producer Busy Signals that made Har Mar enjoyable.

The beats on Har Mar’s self-titled record from 2000 were as danceable as any Top 40 song of the time. But the low-fi bedroom quality of the music celebrated mainstream R&B as much as it mocked it.

Now on his third album “The Handler,” Har Mar has ditched the Busy Signals’ beats and opted for a glossier, more heavily produced sound. The songs no longer carry the same giggly absurdity of the first album. On “The Handler,” the overly sexualized jokes are not much different from artists such as Ludacris.

The highlight of the record, “Cut Me Up,” works thanks to the help from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs’ singer Karen O. The duet is one of the best 1980s electro-pop songs to come out since the revival began.

Besides “Cut Me Up,” the songs on the new album lack originality. “Sugar Pie” rips off Stevie Wonder, and when a harmonica kicks in, you want to bang your head against the wall. Or at least put on a Stevie record instead.

Har Mar Superstar has completely swallowed any remnants of Sean Tillman on “The Handler.” And along with Tillman went the joke.