Album Review: Mike Doughty – Golden Delicious

OK, I’ll admit it. I’m a huge fan of Monsieur Doughty‘s early work. Soul Coughing put out some tremendous stuff (Ruby Vroom, anyone?), and his solo, acoustic stuff is some of my favorite (Smofe + Smang ranks as one of my all-time favorite live albums of all time). I’ve seen him in concert numerous times, most recently opening for the Bare Naked Ladies at the Patriot Center a while back. All this being said, I haven’t been blown away by his output since he signed to Dave Matthews’ ATO label. Haughty Melodic was OK, but, let’s be honest, he essentially re-did songs he had already put out years before that were superior in their original forms. Did George Lucas’ mangling of the “original” Star Wars trilogy teach us nothing? Han Solo shot first, damn it, and that’s the way it should always be remembered. It was with this mild sense of disappointment that I approached Mike’s second studio album, Golden Delicious. I am happy to report, however, that my fears were largely unfounded.

Golden Delicious sees Doughty return to a form befitting his more illustrious past and, most importantly, gives fans new material (with the exception of “27 Jennifers,” but more on that later). For lack of a better description, this is a “fun” outing. The album can essentially be broken into two parts. The first half of the album is largely upbeat, bordering on silly in places, but it seems obvious that Mike and his backing band truly are enjoying themselves. The CD opens with “Fort Hood,” an anti-war song which laments young kids having to go off to war instead of living the carefree lives they probably deserve back home. I’ll say this for him, Doughty writes some of the best protest songs I’ve ever heard. Whereas most of this genre is heavy handed at best, Doughty employs a light touch that speaks more to the people involved as opposed to the situation itself. A slight, but very important, distinction, as far as I’m concerned. Next up, “I Want the Girl in the Blue Dress to Keep On Dancin'” takes notes from such literary stalwarts as Shakespeare’s Sonnet 130 or the equally moving “U Stink But I Love U” by Billy and the Boingers, wherein the author speaks of his infatuation with a, shall we say, non-traditional beauty. “Put It Down” follows, a somewhat nonsensical love song, heavy on the repetition and “na na nas.” “More Bacon than the Pan Can Handle” harkens back to Soul Coughing, a bit of a freak funk-out. For some reason, this track more than any other seems to have drawn distaste from the other reviews I’ve read. Personally, I dig it, with the childlike, female vocals added to flavorful effect. One of the few stumbling blocks on the first half, for me, at least, is the latest version of “27 Jennifers.” Largely a complete redo of “Lisa Ling and Lucy Liu” from the aforementioned Smofe + Smang, Doughty completely redid the song for the Rockity Roll EP. Basically, this is the third album version of a song that seems to lose a little something which each retelling. He keeps adding more to the song, but to my ears, it’s subtraction by addition. See the previous George Lucas analogy. It’s at about this point that the second movement of the album kicks in, taking a bit more somber tone than the previous half. “I Wrote a Song About Your Car” retains some of the playfulness, but the tempo starts to slow and the album retains that tone for the remainder. Fortunately, it’s not an abrupt about-face, so the transition works nicely. “I Got the Drop on You” basically is Mike and a guitar with hints of keyboard in the background. The next three tracks, “Wednesday (No Se Apoye),” Like a Luminous Girl,” and “Nectarine (Part One)” have the same feel, but with added instrumentation. The CD closes with “Navigating by the Stars at Night,” and I think it’s a pretty fitting ending. The band gels well, the back-up singer sounds appropriate and, quite frankly, it just sounds pretty good. All in all, a better than average affair and certainly more than I was expecting.

I would like to get on ye olde soapbox for just a second, though, and discuss my larger gripe with the release/distribution of Golden Delicious. Being a member of the MD fan club, I was barraged with e-mails encouraging me to pre-order the CD and also shell out a couple of saw bucks for a limited edition t-shirt. While I did not opt to do so, I know a number of people who did. Not only did they not receive the album on the promised release date, many of those folks were between dismayed and outright pissed to find out that the album was being released with additional tracks at different outlets. If one snags the iTunes version, one gets the fan favorite “Book of Love” as a bonus. If one purchases through a select number of independent record stores, one receives the free Busking EP with Doughty performing a handful of tracks live at subway stations around NY. Now, I’m all for artists rewarding people for purchasing at independent outlets and I know iTunes likes to offer extra incentives to use its service. However, none of these options, other than shelling out extra ducats for a pre-sale and t-shirt, were made known to the fan base until well after the fact. And the idea of essentially having to buy the same album multiple times to get all the extras has always left a sour taste in my mouth. I’m off the belief that only the fan boys and girls really give a shit about the additional stuff anyway and the end result is ripping off the most loyal followers. While I’m not a fan, I didn’t like it when the Smashing Pumpkins did it recently and I don’t like that Doughty is following suit now. Just my two cents.

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