Monday, September 16, 2013

Mike Doughty's Soul is Coughing

I’ve written about Mike Doughty before, and now here I am, back again, and it’s weird…


I was originally going to star this entry by writing a bunch of stuff about how I got into Mike, but I’ve written it before.


So here’s the short version:


I discovered Mike when I ran into one of his songs on the Veronica Mars soundtrack.  I dug it, so for Christmas I got his first three albums. 


Long story short, I enjoyed them then, and I like them more now.  Like anything you enjoy, eventually I got a little tired of them and put them away and when I pulled them back out a year ago I realized that I still dug ‘em.


Somewhere along the line I also bought a Soul Coughing album, because I found out that he’d been in that band in the 90s when I was in college, but I had somehow never heard of them.


I liked that too, but it was different.  Mike’s work is clean and unfettered and mostly consists of two chords and a drum machine.


Soul Coughing was also fun, but very noisy.  There was a lot of THERE there.  Mike’s stuff stripped a lot of that out, but kept the simple melodies and the gravel-tinged voice.


I was going to buy more of his stuff, but… well, the reviews came out for the next few albums, and they ranged from, “Meh,” who, “Whoah, what happened?  It really looked like we were going somewhere cool with this.”


So I didn’t buy more records. 


I kept up with Mike, and eventually learned he wrote a memoir called The Book of Drugs, wherein he talked about his time with Soul Coughing and how it was awful for him and how his bandmates ruined his songs.


And then something weird happened.  Mike decided to re-record a bunch of Soul Coughing songs.


He’s given a few reasons that he wanted to do this, amongst others that he wanted to reclaim them, and that he wanted people to hear them as he intended them.


I haven’t heard it mentioned anywhere, but, yeah, there’s more than likely a monetary component to it as well.  Because having put this record together, well, next he’s going on tour and performing Soul Coughing songs, which he hasn’t done in more than a decade.


It’s a Soul Coughing reunion tour without Soul Coughing.


Interestingly, Mike named the album after all the songs on it, but let’s be honest.  It might as well be called Mike Doughty sings the songs of Soul Coughing.  More to the point, people pledged to get it made, and for the last several weeks Mike has been putting up acoustic videos of him performing the songs that made him famous.


And I kinda dug it.  I pledged, because after hearing Mike complain how his band did the songs wrong, I wanted to hear what it sounded like when they were done “right.”


And on Friday, all the pledge people got to hear it first, if they felt like downloading it.


And you know what?  Even though I kicked in for a CD, I totally downloaded it too, because I was genuinely that curious and felt like I had waited years to hear this.


And here’s the answer:


It’s less noisy.


I’d love to say there’s more to it, but that’s the first big change… and in many ways, it’s the one that counts.  The original records were made by a group of musicians, and a producer, and a bunch of fiddly knobs.


They were wall-to-wall noise, which was a lot of fun, because you could mentally strip them down, and find all the fiddle.


But in these new editions, it’s mostly drum machine.  There are samples there, but they’re little ones that bounce across the track mostly unobtrusively.


He’s pulled out the acoustic guitar, and turned most of the songs into his general thumping two-or-three-chord wonders. 


And ultimately?


I’m cool with it.


In a sense it marries two things I always liked about the guy’s work.  His wordplay, which is always fun, is easier to follow here.  There’s less screaming and voice altering and more melodic lines. 


So now we’ve got the acoustic melodic side of his work, and we’ve got the gritty wordplay, and while I miss some things (that excellent base line in Super Bon Bon) I truly love some others (the less noisy, more pretty So Far I Have Not Found the Science).


I’m still looking forward to hearing his all-acoustic versions of these songs, and they should be out soon.


But more than that, I hope this little side-trip to the past wakes him up and sets him back on the path to making fun and sweet little songs that his fans can enjoy.


Here’s hoping.