May 10, 2005

Mike Doughty "Haughty Melodic"

It was a bit of a struggle, getting this record. I went to several record stores and music-related shops all over East Texas, and none of them had it in stock. I didn't want to special order it, because my luck always has me finding the record the day after I order it. I'd resigned myself to having to order it online, when lo and behold, I visited a record store and there it was: Haughty Melodic, the debut record from Soul Coughing's Mike Doughty, on sale for 9.99. I grabbed it up, happy to find it. I'd loved Soul Coughing, and I'd loved his solo collection Skittish/Rockity Roll When I went to check out, though, the clerk rang it up at full price. I mentioned to her that it was on the sale kiosk for 9.99. (I didn't have 15.99 plus tax to purchase it.) She gave me a look and said, "well, it's not in the computer, let me get a price check."

She called the manager, who informed her that it wasn't on sale. I insisted, and the junior manager shows up. I take the guy over to where I found it and showed him. He insisted that it was an error, that the sale was over, and that I'd have to pay full price. So I insisted to him that this was a mistake on their part, regardless of what he might say, I was led to believe that the record was on sale, and I wasn't going to pay full price--topping it off with an a. "ever heard of bait-and-switch?' and b. "what's your name, by the way?" The guy gave me a look, and refusing to budge, I said, "hey, you know what? I ain't buying it, then" and I walked back to the clerk to inform her that she should cancel the transaction. The guy, realizing that his status as junior manager had just been put at jeopardy (especially because he'd just disgruntled a paying customer with his shitty attitude,) shows up and grumbles, "give it to him at 9.99, the sign said it was on sale."

I tell you the following story, because it will make you understand how hard this review is for me to write. There's no gentle way to put this: Haughty Melodic is an utter piece of shit, and it's a piece of shit from someone who is capable of better. Skittish/Rockity Roll was proof that Doughty's solo stuff would be/could be interesting, and it seemed as if his best days were yet to come. Yeah, Soul Coughing was great, but there was a restraint there; Doughty had yet to realize his full potential. With a solo career, it might be a good time to redeem himself, and for a moment, it felt as if he was standing on the edge of greatness--all he needed was a push in the right direction. That he was so willing to turn himself into a sub-par Dave Matthews in order to reach greater heights...well, that's just sad.

Haughty Melodic starts off promisingly enough with the upbeat "Looking At The World From The Bottom Of A Well," but it falls down from that point onward. The music is a blend of safe, harmless coffee shop folk and even safer pseudo Dave Matthews-style acousto-ballads that are about as interesting as...well, there's nothing that's possibly as interesting. In an oddly confounding twist, the one time that Doughty doesn't sound like Dave Matthews is on "Tremendous Brunettes," which is only notable because it features Dave Matthews! I've listened to this record several times already, and I just can't fathom listening to it again. It's simply not very interesting, none of the songs make any kind of lasting impression, and it's simply boring.

Even more annoying is that it seems as if almost all of these songs simply use Soul Coughing's "Circles" as the musical template. If you remember that song, it's a simple acoustic number with a little bit of electronic accompaniment that was kinda folky and kinda nice. If you don't know or don't remember that song, then you really should check it out. In an even more interesting twist, I seem to recall Doughty virtually disowning this song, because he claimed it represented artistic compromise. When did it change from compromise to the only valid formula for Doughty's songwriting? I don't know, and to be honest, I'm tired of talking about this record.

Doughty, you can do better than this. You have done better, and I hope you rectify this situation toute suite. You have so much promise, but promise me you'll never go in this bland, boring direction ever again? It's kind of embarassing for you, because, you know, how does it look to know people are reselling it immediately after buying it? Haughty Melodic is easily the biggest musical disappointment of 2005. It will be fun, though, returning to the store where I bought it and saying, "you know, I'd like to sell this piece of shit back to you." I hope the junior manager's there. It'll be fun to see the look on his face when he sees me flippantly selling this symbol of his authority being questioned less than a week after the battle.

--Joseph Kyle

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