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Monday, 15 August 2005
I have a problem
Now Playing: Mike Doughty: Haughty Melodic
Topic: Raving
It's 11:45 p.m. I have two chapters and an article to read for Social Impact Assessment tomorrow. And after listening to Haughty Melodic three times, I can't decide whether "American Car" or "Your Misfortune" is going to be my new favorite song that I'll hum under my breath over and over until some poor soul stuck sitting next to me on the tram snaps and tries to strangle me.

I should've known better than to put Haughty Melodic on tonight, but I've never believed in delaying gratification. I've been wanting to hear it since it came out in May, and MGM (current holder of the title "World's Best Brother") was finally able to make that happen. Its the first album I've listened to in years that makes me want to do nothing but lie on the floor and listen to it over and over. Most of my music collection breaks down into categories according to what it's good background music for: studying, housecleaning, retaining my sanity on the morning commute. There might be a couple songs that I'll stop everything to listen to, and replay a couple times, and that will reliably turn up on most every mix CD and playlist I create, but generally, I pop in a CD and go about my business. Haughty Melodic I want to soak in.

Some reviewers seem to think that they would've preferred to see Doughty continue in the vein of Soul Coughing's left-of-center, could've-only-come-out-of-New York sonic experimentation. Myself, much as I loved Soul Coughing, I like Doughty's turn toward a warmer, more traditional sound and more structured songwriting. Even within more conventional song structures, he hasn't lost any of his oddball sense of humor or obvious delight in playing with words. On Smofe + Smang, his 2002 concert recording, he was performing "Grey Ghost" with a "fake word" bridge because he hadn't written lyrics for it yet. Now that he has, they go: "Embracing some hard-luck citizen/ Disgraced like some strange Bob Balaban", which is perfect - obscure, precise, alliterative. The lyrics have always been the draw for me where Doughty's work is concerned, but he's a talented musician as well, and rarely runs into the problem of music and lyrics competing with, instead of enhancing, each other.

It's interesting to compare the songs that evolved from Smofe + Smang to Haughty Melodic. I haven't really followed any other songwriters closely enough to get any sense of the process of working through a song. "Madeleine and Nine" was also in development on Smofe + Smang, and I think I liked it better in it's stripped down, acoustic version. I haven't decided yet whether I prefer the plaintive "Sunkeneyed Girl" on S+S or its upbeat incarnation on HM. I'll resolve that question after I determine whether my soundtrack for the week will involve endless repetitions of the slinky, country-tinged, road-weary rasp of "American Car" or the bright piano, embracing strings, and "life's tough, but its a gorgeous day and none of that nonsense has matter for the next five minutes" atmosphere of "Your Misfortune".

I will admit that I'm outrageously biased where Doughty is concerned (see "Janine" on Soul Coughing's Ruby Vroom for the point where any objectivity I had went right out the window), and I guess it's far too late to say that I don't want to oversell Haughty Melodic, but I can't imagine that anyone who likes singer/songwriters and appreciates well-crafted, evocative lyrics, wouldn't find plenty to enjoy in Haughty Melodic.

4:16 PM BST | Post Comment | Permalink
Updated: Friday, 26 August 2005 3:53 AM BST

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