So, who’s with me?
Well, there are my 15-year-old and 16-year-old sons.
(Well, there are some residents of our household who obviously disagree with me.)
But, if you are not with me (which, in the case of some readers, obviously you are not), there is still much to be said for Jonathan Coulton’s throaty take on music, pop culture and other assorted topics, including Sesame Street and Candace Cameron Bure.
It’s been five years since Coulton and the Toadstool Gang played his excellent album “Squeak E. Clean” at a book signing in D.C. This month, he’s back with a new release, “For Once, Singing of Complete and Utter Clarity,” and we’re heading back to his street to snag one of those rare, honest-to-God CDs that sells for $16.99 online.
Yes, his songs about classroom life and opera, amongst other subjects, are family music. It was the summer of 2013 when my kids were just turned 15 and 16 and, in the summer of 2010, they auditioned for and signed up for Coulton’s Spindrift Musical Theatre Workshop. The teenaged kids, thus, became the voices behind 40 of the 43 tracks on “For Once, Singing of Complete and Utter Clarity.”
For a guy who is struggling with ADHD himself, Coulton’s vocals (and insufferable lyrics) are a bit grating. He’s constantly belting out lyrics at relentless volume, at the detriment of sleep and the ability to absorb more than one fact at a time. At times, it sounds like one of those 1970s rock albums where it’s likely you’ll have to pick the headphones off your head to hear anything actually happening and trying to create a cohesive narrative, rather than something meant to just completely plunge into his lyrical wibbly-wobbly fantasy tale.
However, a lot of the songs are great. “Cycle Falls,” for example, is a really great piece of work. The lyrics — “We live as if we’re looking for a save/We pass our toes once but give them away” — are just perfect and a good, rhythmic example of how Coulton inserts self-aware pop-philosophy into what you know and love (like feeling nostalgic for a really long time) while actually really feeling it.
My son can get groovy with “World Champions of the Universe.” The insistent riff just wraps itself around him and won’t let go. “Now the mightiest relics
Of all the kingdoms
Of all the worlds,
Here in this place where they’re all not
Naked because it won’t be
For ever that we leave.”
I also really like that “Rappin’ in a Dinky” is the show’s opening number. I love sports, especially rec ball (not my forte, but that’s another story), and I also love Ruddocks Ronda’s bass line, which is the way a concert roadie should play the bass line. “Rapper Ronda” is what you might imagine if Eminem and Ludacris and Ashanti and Lil Wayne were all sitting in the parking lot of a rec ball stadium yelling at each other to get their act together and keep the music playing.
The album is, as you might expect, shorter than you might think: 26 tracks, and only three songs are dedicated to children. In that way, it is not very high concept (there’s a 13-minute version of “Cycle Falls” that is kind of cool). That being said, there is a lot of depth to his albums, and he knows how to poke fun at himself.
“You look terrible in the mirror,” Coulton sings on “Winning the Better Brain Contest,” as if comparing himself to Charlie Sheen, “And you know it’s you.”
“For Once, Singing of Complete and Utter Clarity” is a perfect song that is a good introduction to Coulton’s work, to help lay the framework of what is to come.