CD Review of Golden Delicious by Mike Doughty
Recommended if you like
Soul Coughing, They Might Be Giants, taking the elevator to the mezzanine
Label
ATO
Mike Doughty:
Golden Delicious

Reviewed by Jeff Giles

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W
hat, the name Mike Doughty doesn’t ring a bell? Perhaps you remember Mike in his previous incarnation as M. Doughty, the inscrutable mad scientist behind the ‘90s cracked-pop collective known as Soul Coughing. After scoring a pair of medium-sized hits in “Super Bon Bon” and “Circles” – and getting hooked on heroin in the process – Doughty disassembled Soul Coughing, parted ways with Warner Bros., and hit the road as a solo act, moving away from the dense sound collages that colored his early albums and reinventing himself as an acoustic-strumming post-boho songwriter.

After a few years of selling CDRs at solo gigs, Doughty forged a connection with Dave Matthews, who signed him to ATO for Doughty’s “official” solo debut, 2005’s Haughty Melodic. The album bridged the gap between his Soul Coughing days and his years in the wilderness, wedding (occasionally, slightly) more literal lyrics with the type of shambolic kitchen-sink production (courtesy of Semisonic’s Dan Wilson) that fans had come to expect. Doughty was rewarded with a healthy dose of buzz, including musical cameos on episodes of “Grey’s Anatomy,” “Bones,” and “What About Brian.”

Three years later, Doughty’s back, Wilson again in tow, with 11 rhythm-driven, pleasantly fuzzy, oddly shaped pop nuggets to show for it. Ladies and gentlemen, we give you Golden Delicious.

Mike Doughty

The chief difference between Soul Coughing albums and Mike Doughty’s label-released solo stuff is primarily one of tone; where the band’s records tended to dwell on the darker end of the sonic spectrum, as a solo artist, Doughty coats his songs in rainbow-colored taffy, bending and stretching them to fit the available space. As a lyricist, well, who the hell knows, really? Doughty’s songs might not be crammed full of as much nonsense as they were during the Coughing era, but we’re still talking about a guy who won’t hesitate to put a phrase like “easy Japanese-y” in a song (specifically “I Got the Drop on You”) if it fits the meter. The closest he’s ever come to an honest narrative is when he covered Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” a couple of years ago.

This isn’t a bad thing, necessarily, but if you go looking for meaning in Doughty’s songs, you’d better be able to read deeply between the lines, or you’ll come away frustrated; his lyrics are built around what sounds good in the context of the song, not what makes sense. You can write a Mike Doughty lyric, too. Seriously, it’s easy – watch, I’ll make one up right now: “Rubberband man does a handstand / Handstand on a grandstand / Turpentine in the twine / Turpentine in the twine / Badda boom boom badda boom boom boom.” Add a funky beat, some vintage keyboards, and a backmasked engine gunning, and you’re all set.

But this sort of snark, fun as it might be, completely misses the point. Doughty doesn’t deal in point-A-to-point-B pop songs, and he knows it; it’s telling that the Golden Delicious artwork includes a photo of his lyric notebook, covered in scribbled drawings instead of words. You’re supposed to supply your own definitions here – or, barring that, just digest the songs as chunks of sound. On these terms, Delicious works as well as, if not better than, Doughty’s earlier records. Turn it on, switch off your brain, and float downstream. Badda boom bam bam.

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