Sunday, June 29, 2014

Further Thoughts About Band-Dom and Mike Doughty

Having caught up to “Circles” by Mike Doughty, mentioned in a previous blog entry, I’m very much wondering why he chose to revisit his Soul Coughing songs in the way he did here. If I were reviewing the album, I’d only give it about one star out of five. Most of the revised versions find Doughty delivering the words with less feeling and more by rote than he did on the originals, and the backing music used is more monotonous and lacks the nuance that his old bandmates, however much he despises them, provided.

Just two tracks here really do anything different or worthwhile, and those are the songs “Mr. Bitterness” and “St. Louise Is Listening.” The former makes the song something different and more mysterious with an acoustic guitar treatment, and the latter cranks up the intensity with Doughty’s vocal, which adds a portentous tone different than the original.

The new version of “Super Bon Bon,” the song that first turned me on to Soul Coughing, is really disappointing, wrecked utterly by a needless and unnecessary chattering background vocal effect that Doughty has added here – even without that and/or without the original arrangement, this version would still seem flat.

I like both Soul Coughing and Doughty’s solo work, but Doughty said in his memoir “The Book of Drugs” and elsewhere that the Soul Coughing recordings aren’t how he envisioned those songs as the main author of them. If that’s so, and this is how he imagined the sound of these songs, then he really gained something better from those collaborators, even if they never got along.

It’s possible these versions could somehow grow on me over time – the enunciation of the words is in some cases clearer – but that alone isn’t enough, and sometimes overall sound and production is more important to great music. It’s not like Doughty can’t or doesn’t do that in his solo work – check out a short track like “More Bacon Than The Pan Can Handle” or for that matter, “Golden Delicious,” the album it’s on. It just appears that in revisiting the Soul Coughing songs he couldn’t help but let his conflicted feelings about that time hamper the work. There are countless creative things he could have done with those songs that weren’t attempted.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Michael Che: A Must See

Michael Che, the newest Daily Show correspondent, has also done an episode of Comedy Central's showcase series "The Half Hour" that I can say is well worth catching, even just on the basis of having seen the short highlights version available here for non-subscribers (or for streaming purchase here).

Just to quickly give an example of the imagination Che has in his material -- he mentions the US debt to China, and says "I don't owe China billions of dollars. I owe Sprint $90. So you must be doing a lot of roaming, or something..."

In just a few segments so far on the Daily Show, Che is already also making his mark, especially in a piece he did with Jordan Klepper satirizing the recent campaign by gun nuts carrying in public, which can be seen in full here.

So, with his debut splash on Comedy Central and getting started as a Daily Show correspondent, Michael Che is clearly a comedian to watch.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Finding The Science of Band-dom (With Apologies to Mike Doughty)

Two groups and singers that I've been a big fan of over the years are Live, which was fronted by Ed Kowalczyk and Soul Coughing, fronted by Mike Doughty.

Both frontmen departed in a fracturing with their bandmates. Doughty broke up the group after a three-album run through the late 1990s while Live had a much longer run and sold more albums than Soul Coughing. In both cases however, the singers were outsiders who joined with three bandmates who already knew each other and were playing together. (Details can be found in Doughty’s autobiography The Book of Drugs, to which this blog entry is indebted.) 

So the question and the point of this blog entry is whether the output when these singers when with their bands was greater than they have managed solo. Anything is going to be matter of taste, certainly – and the fracturing of the music industry right around or before the time both singers ended up becoming solo artists did not help their causes. Once Doughty and Kowalczyk went solo, however, they lost the organically connected bands that gave their songs an extra something, however disconnected these singers may have been personally from their bandmates.

Kowalczyk began his solo career five years ago. It's evident now that all the lyrical and songwriting inspiration of Live was all him, and he still is coming up with great songs like “The Garden” in 2012 and “Seven” in 2013. If these also had the music business promotion behind them that he enjoyed with Live, they would have been huge “Throwing Copper” size hits.

Doughty has been solo much longer, since about 2000, and has gone with a semi acoustic style without the hip-hop inflections his Soul Coughing bandmates provided. Without those though, a bit of the propulsion his music had sometimes is missing. However, I am a bit behind on his recent work, and more than 10 years after Soul Coughing broke up, he’s revisited his favorite songs from those ays on a new album [provisionally titled “Circles,” but really titled with all the names of all 13 tracks] more in keeping with his style as a solo artist, which will be interesting to hear. Maybe a follow-up blog entry in store…