|By Zach Patterson||Friday, 21 Mar 2008|
It’s no secret that I’ve been a fan of Mike Doughty since the Soul Coughing years, and he’s one of the artists I’ve seen the most live over the years. As such, I have generally been a big promoter of his stuff to my friends due to his excellent, unusual lyrics, his vocal delivery, and intimate, mostly acoustic performances. In 2005, he released Haughty Melodic, which was his first “big” release, on Dave Matthews’ ATO Records. Without going too much into that particular record, I felt it was a little too much instrumentation and felt a bit like Mike Doughty playing with Dave Matthews Band at times, but it certainly had its moments. Now in 2008, he’s released Golden Delicious, his second major album, and while it also has some great moments, it’s hurt by a lot of mediocre songs and strange inclusions.
I read through the thought process for this album on Mike’s website, and it claims he abides by a “dude theory—the idea of making a relaxed record that sounds like a bunch of dudes playing music for the pure joy of playing.” Well, the album is certainly relaxed and this is probably the happiest record he’s put out to date, so mission accomplished there. However, and this isn’t necessarily a reflection on anything other than person taste, but I felt Doughty’s music always had much more weight and emotion attached to it with his darker, sadder songs. Skittish, Smofe + Smang, and Rockity Roll all had a more minimal, one man band sound to it, and mixed in some humor with more somber stuff like “The Only Answer” or “40 Grand in the Hole”.
Regardless, some of the songs on Golden Delicious might be too sappy for anyone’s personal taste. The single “27 Jennifers” was never one of my favorites when it was released on Rockity Roll with its cutesy “girly who will end all girls” type lyrics, and this full band, heavy keyboard, seemingly out-of-place jam solos version doesn’t really change my mind. It’s a song I’m sure will have it’s fans, but I think it gets old pretty quick and it’s not exactly new to me, as it was originally released back in 2003. Then there are other offenders of sappy bleh lyrics, with “I Just Want the Girl in the Blue Dress To Keep On Dancing” busting out “ba-rumpa-ta-bum”s throughout the lyrics and claiming he loves the baby fat and crooked nose of a girl in a blue dress…it just kinda comes off as a myspace ugly girl empowerment song. “Nectarine (Part One)” certainly doesn’t make me want a part two with Mike again mouthing non-words like “ding den den deng deng” and mailing in some generic “oh I’m so happy” type lyrics.
Then there is the fourth song on the album, which pretty much belongs its own paragraph about it. “More Bacon Than the Pan Can Handle” is just a bad, strange song. I’m sure it was put on the album to further this “dude theory” where these guys are supposed to sound like they are just jamming and they just came up with this quick crazy song one day. But considering most of the song is some girl just talk-singing “more bacon than the pan can handle” with not much than a drum beat and Doughty just rap-singing some nonsense, it comes off as completely out of place, like a rejected Soul Coughing snippet or something. Not to mention, the girl’s voice is just kinda annoying. It’s a minute and a half, and it never really hits a groove, and I really have to skip it every time I play this album just to take it seriously as a whole.
There are some bright spots here though. Perhaps the best example of what Doughty was trying to do on this album is evident on the first song “Fort Hood”. It’s a political song about the army base that has lost the most troops during the Iraq War, and instead of really being stereotypical in a political song, it focuses on what these soldiers may be thinking (quipping lyrics like “I’d rather watch movie stars get fat”, “I’d rather keep the fire and the frenzy out of mind”, “I’d rather leave the mobs and the murder in a distant land”) while nabbing the gospel-type chorus from the song “The Flesh Failures (Let The Sunshine In)” from Hair. It’s a happy and sad song at once, and one of the few times I’ve ever really liked such a blatant borrowing of the hook from another song. But it works beautifully here, and it’s just a nice song about how things are and how we kind of hope they will be. Meanwhile “Put It Down” is a decent jam focusing more on quick delivery of lyrics that’s just fun to sing along to.
Also, the middle of the album is filled with some solid songs in “I Wrote A Song About Your Car”, “I Got The Drop On You” and “Wednesday (No Se Apoye)”. While “Car” borders on some cheesy lyrics, there’s some great lines like “Will you be my friend, or will you be a friend of mine?”, and “Drop” sounds like a song that could have come directly off Skittish, with a simple acoustic guitar and some clever word play. “THIS is what I paid for!” was my first thought. It’s just Mike at his simplest, and, in my opinion, his best. “Wednesday” is another moderately minimal song and one of my favorites with a gentle, sad tone that isn’t ruined by obtrusive over-instrumentation. You get a chance to hear his lyrics, and even the Spanish in the song is very heartfelt and the fits the feel of the song perfectly.
So overall, this album certainly isn’t a disaster of Chris Cornell’s last solo record proportions, but it certainly wasn’t quite what I wanted from a new album from Mike Doughty. He’s truly at his best when there is less outside influence and the focus is just his clever lyrics and a guitar. I’m okay with what he put out here, but I’d be lying if I didn’t think half the album is completely mediocre, or in the case of a certain song. rather poor. Luckily, there’s some decent stuff here too, I just wouldn’t recommend it as your first Doughty album if you were looking to see his best work.