I’ll be the first to admit, I was ready to tear Verbal Chicanery a new asshole. I regularly cringe at some of the extra-curricular side projects avid sim racers tend to dabble in from time to time, such as creating audition videos for sponsorship contests typically reserved for real drivers, or filming their wives/girlfriends turning idle-speed laps in their simulator rig, so an entire album rapping about the obscure hobby of sim racing immediately struck me as the absolute pinnacle of how bizarre our collective community could get. I was in high school during Eminem’s resurgence of sorts, so I’ve seen what happens when a whole lot of delusional pasty white kids get their hands on entry-level audio recording programs, and combining that with the often-times embarrassing behavior of sim racers was as if I’d entered a special kind of hell designed specifically for me and about thirty other people.
To my surprise, however, Verbal Chicanery by Rhys Gardiner transcends many late-night ideas tossed around on TeamSpeak that should have been abandoned, if not entirely forgotten the following the evening. Featuring acceptable instrumental packages, creative phrasing, and an underlying lyrical theme that explores some of the shittier parts of sim racing which mirror a lot of PRC sentiments on the topics addressed in each piece, I’m actually left wanting more. Rhys found a sweet spot between comedy and insightful exposition, writing genuinely hilarious songs that also double as a commentary on how far off the rails sim racing has traveled. This is not an album intended to serve as a soundtrack of sorts to our virtual racing adventures; it instead openly mocks certain portions of the community with reckless abandon, continuing to dig into uncomfortable topics with the throttle pedal pinned firmly to the floor.
Split into two distinct sections, Verbal Chicanery is structured in a very dynamic fashion, with the first six tracks focusing solely on sim racing, before a half-time narrative piece setting the stage for the back half of the record – dropping the extremely niche subject matter in favor of broader topics acting as a throwback of sorts to pseudo-artists such as John LaJoie. The flow of the record is very cohesive, each song digging a little bit deeper into sim racing insanity before peaking at the very center of the record, and proceeding to dial back absurdity with the final six tracks, acting almost as a sampler of sorts for Gardiner’s other work.
The introduction piece is a little shaky, but Everybody Look – Verbal Chicanery’s second track and first proper song – firmly establishes the album’s theme and stance. Gardnier is not here to tell us about the joy of these very obscure video games obsessed over by a fraction of a fraction of Steam’s overall userbase, but immediately begins ripping into sim racers who refuse to do anything other than participate in offline hot lap sessions with poorly-filmed YouTube videos of their escapades, or cherry-pick online races with a small field of competitors to prevent their egos from shattering after a defeat. Gardiner’s commentary on the subject is much appreciated, as despite the 16,000-member strong Reddit sim racing community, many titles that are routinely praised by the group feature pitifully small online server browsers, with games such as Automobilista struggling to attain more than 20 total drivers across all active sessions outside of league hours. It’s hilarious hearing someone put this passive-aggressive dick-waving contest into lyrics.
The following piece, Running Default, discusses the overwhelming amount of sim racers who seemingly have no fucking idea how to drive despite months of practice, and promptly accuse those faster than them of cheating when the driver in question tells them he only made minor tweaks to the supplied setup. This is a problem I’ve noticed myself across many online racing leagues, even when handing out setups to ensure people at least had a decent starting point with whatever car we were driving that season – there are a whole bunch of sim racers in our hobby who just don’t fucking get how to drive a car at competition speeds, and they can’t deal with it. It’s obviously frustrating to experience it first-hand, but hearing it described with tone & rhythm adds another layer to the message itself; it’s fucking annoying. Running Default benefits from great delivery and a simplistic backing beat, with Gardiner hitting his stride and feeling confident in his abilities as a random guy messing around with recording software. The combination of Everybody Look and Running Default was a great way to start the record.
Verbal Chicanery sputters a bit with Lights Out, a track nearly saved by featuring one of the better instrumental beats on the record, but after the very distinct theme set with the first two songs, the non-critical vibe of Lights Out contrasts too much with the overall tone being conveyed with the record. Lights Out lacks the one-two punch of humor and insight on the pitfalls of the sim community, instead being an underwhelming filler piece that is more along the lines of the corniness I first expected from this project. The lyrics try to address the nerves of making it through opening-lap chaos unscathed, but it just doesn’t fit with the rest of the album – it’s too serious, too corny, too “oh my God, you’re rapping about sim racing, please stop.”
Soon I’ll Be Pro, however, absolutely nails the concept of sim racing comedy rap with flying colors, to the point where I wouldn’t be surprised if some sort of accompanying YouTube video will follow in the near future. This is the pinnacle of Gardiner’s creativity and it’s clearly the song that fueled the whole project; Soon I’ll Be Pro takes extremely specific shots at sections of the iRacing community and specific individuals in particular, who spend copious amounts of not-always-disposable income on absurdly high-priced simulation gear in the hopes of making it into one of two $10,000 iRacing championships, or landing some sort of real-life ride from their sim racing exploits. Had this been released as a single on the iRacing forums, or any sim racing forum for that matter, people would actively demand Gardiner’s head – it’s that good, or bad depending on your inner fanboy.
It’s clear Gardiner had a lot of fun both writing and performing this track, as the rich lyrics and uncomfortable, very direct knocks & impersonations take the piece to spectacular heights. If someone were to make a video compilation of all the cringe-tacular happenings in the world of sim racing, from Jason Jacoby’s eternal love for Domino’s Pizza and monolithic sim rig, the legally binding contracts for iRacing teams that don’t participate in any meaningful online events, the “sim racer’s girlfriend runs a sim team to feel included” stuff, and the guys bragging about injuries they received from direct drive wheels, Soon I’ll Be Pro is the soundtrack to the insanity. I want a video for this song, even though it may possibly go viral and make us all look like complete losers to the outside world.
Sadly, the pinnacle of Verbal Chicanery’s lyrical hilarity and creative drive marks a very steady slide that lasts for the final portion of the album. A guest appearance from sim racing YouTube personality Jimmy Broadbent serves as the album’s half-time split, shifting the remaining songs away from sim racing, into broader topics meant to serve as a demo for Gardiner’s other work.
While the final tracks all feature rather acceptable instrumental pieces, the lyrical content just doesn’t resonate in the same manner, which is why I’m left wanting a bit more from the original theme of taking the piss out of sim racing. Rag Top is the only notable standout of side two, starting off as a generic expose about modern American muscle cars before trailing off into trackday fights between two wanna-be race car drivers, and a clever Murray Walker impersonation, complete with audio effects to mimic a shitty YouTube upload of the race. Rag Top is good work, but other pieces just don’t feature the same amount of depth or creativity behind them.
I’ve suffered far through far too many wanna-be Eminem knock-offs over the past decade, but what Rhys Gardiner has put together as some sort of goofy project in his spare time to take the piss out of sim racing in a creative way honestly isn’t terrible. At least one of his songs deserves an accompanying video, and as a whole the lyrical content of his work draws attention to how ridiculous and annoying the sim racing community can be; it’s nice to see someone else going about what I’m doing here at PRC, but in a different and unique manner. I’m not saying everybody should go out and start messing with Cool Edit Pro, Garage Band, or Audacity, but Gardiner’s creation in Verbal Chicanery was worth the twenty minutes I set aside to listen to it, and that says a lot.