For those of you with older kids and an affinity for the Magnetic Fields, have I got news for you -- New York's MCC Theatre is bringing Coraline to the stage as a new musical. With music from Stephin Merritt. Now those of you who remember Merritt's album (as the Gothic Archies) for the Lemony Snicket series of books, The Tragic Treasury (review), will probably realize how perfect Merritt is for writing the music and lyrics. The ever-so-slightly creepy music and lyrics (listen to some demos here) are very intriguing. Now, just as the movie version came with reviewers' warnings that young kids might find it a bit too disturbing, the Theatre says it's appropriate for kids 8 and older. (And that's probably a good thing, too, because at $65 a ticket, it's a little different than leaving a $7 movie matinee because the kids are too scared...) Coraline starts May 7.
Well, how about this one? At the same time that Bill and Amy and I were putting together the Fids and Kamily awards, our Pazz and Jop-inspired poll focusing on kids and family music, the masterminds behind Idolator were planning their own poll. And despite the fact that I'm from Arizona, the state that spawned the New Times chain that took over the Village Voice, the New York newspaper that hosted Pazz & Jop for more than 30 years, then unceremoniously dumped Robert Christgau, who ran it all that time, I wangled myself an invitation to participate in the new poll. (See this NPR story for more info on the controversy.) You can see my album votes -- which are the same as my F&K votes -- here. (I though about reordering my votes in order to vote for albums more likely to get support from the rest of the poll, but thought better of it.) You can also see my Top 10 singles votes, which, since it was put together in about 3 minutes before deadline, probably needs some explaining. Not that those aren't great songs, but I think I need to put together a proper Top 20 list. Frankly, the most surprising thing about the poll? I wasn't the only person to vote for kids' music: -- Dan Zanes got two votes (though at the moment they're listed as Catch That Train! -- that would be my vote -- and Stop That Train!). -- Paul Westerberg also got two votes for his work on the Open Season soundtrack. -- Unsurprisingly, Bruce Springsteen placed high (#39) with his We Shall Overcome: The Seeger Session CD (Top 20 for me). -- Uncle Rock got a vote for Plays Well With Others. -- The Gothic Archies got a vote for The Tragic Treasury. -- Other votes came for High School Musical, Spongebob Squarepants, Aly & AJ, Jack Johnson, and Smoosh. You can also find some "kids music" listed in the Top Singles section. Next year, we're asking Robert Christgau and Chuck Sasha Frere-Jones to participate in Fids & Kamily.
One of the weirder things things about the NPR interview this week was that not only did that story appear higher on NPR's top e-mailed story list than the venerable music critic Robert Christgau's piece on crunk, so did my list of the top 20 kids' music albums of the year. I still don't know if that was a good or a bad thing, but perhaps kids' music -- one of the few genres Christgau hasn't really touched on in his long career -- is a genre he might want to explore. Well, anyway, news this week that Christgau has moved his "Consumer Guide" record reviews to MSN. It's well worth your time every other month to read his reviews. And, what do you know? One of Christgau's favorite records in his MSN debut? The Gothic Archies' The Tragic Treasury, the Lemony Snicket-inspired CD from Stephin Merritt. Hmmm... I've reviewed that here, too. Perhaps there's hope for the guy yet...
Review: The Tragic Treasury: Songs From A Series of Unfortunate Events - The Gothic Archies (Stephin Merritt)
As a parent of five- and one-year-old kids, I'm not quite in the Lemony Snicket core demographic -- my kids are too young to really be reading the books, and I'm way too busy to add another kids' book series to my plate. (I'm sorry, Harry Potter got there first.) I am considerably closer, however, to the Stephin Merritt demographic and it's he, in the guise of his "Gothic rock-bubblegum pop" band The Gothic Archies, who has composed a song to accompany the audiobooks for each of the Lemony Snicket A Series of Unfortunate Events books. With the release of the thirteenth and final book in the series The End on, appropriately enough, this Friday the 13th, Nonesuch Records is releasing The Tragic Treasury: Songs From A Series of Unfortunate Events tomorrow, collecting tracks from all thirteen audiobooks for the first time on one disc. (How did this partnership occur? Well, Snicket's alter ego, author Daniel Handler, and Merritt go way back -- Handler played accordion on Merritt's breakthrough with the Magnetic Fields, 69 Love Songs.) As you might expect given the source material, this is not exactly "Up With People." More like "Down With People." The opening track, from the first book in the series, has a pleasant enough melody, but with lyrics such as "You might be thinking what a romp this is / But wait 'til you meet his accomplices" and a chorus that goes "Scream and run away / run / run run run run run run run / or die / die die die die die die die," there's a lyrical darkness that you don't really get on a lot of kids' albums. OK, on virtually no kids' albums. But having read the first book in the series to prepare for this review, I can assure you that the song totally matches the tone of the book with witty and intricate lyrics that are the equal of Snicket's words. Musically, Merritt singing style recalls one of the pioneers of Goth music, the late Ian Curtis of Joy Division. And the songs themselves, which peppy ("Freakshow") or moodily atmospheric ("Crows"), serve the lyrics, which typically don't tell stories (a la the intricate narratives of the Decemberists) as much as they serve as musical illustrations for the book. They're complementary, in the best way. It's almost a shock, then, to hear the "bonus tracks," the sunny (or at least only partly cloudy) "Walking My Gargoyle" and the almost snappy "We Are the Gothic Archies." The tone still matches that of the books, and "Gargoyle" is an especially fun track, but they do feel a little out of place. The recommended reading age for the books seems to be about 9 though 12, so I'm guessing that kids 8 and up will enjoy the songs the most. You can hear three excellent tracks at Nonesuch's site for the album or the band's Myspace page. I don't think families will want to listen to The Tragic Treasury on a regular basis if they have no familiarity with Lemony Snicket or Stephin Merritt. These are excellent songs, but they're for a certain time and place, and you may not be at that time and place yet with your family. If, however, you've got Stephin Merritt or Lemony Snicket fans in your household (be it you or a younger member), this CD is an excellent and darkly humorous romp through the world of Lemony Snicket and is highly recommended for you. (And it might even get you turned on to another great series in kids' literature. After all, I only need to get through one more Harry Potter book, and then I'll be looking for something else...)
Well, it's not like Oct. 3rd isn't already busy enough as it is, CD-release-wise -- new stuff from Beck, the Decemberists, the Hold Steady, even the Killers (though their new album is getting absolutely miserable reviews). But, hey, even in the kids' music segment we got a new (sort of) Ralph's World. Not to mention a bunch of other stuff to look forward to. So here we go: Oct. 1: AudraRox - I Can Do It By Myself Oct. 3: Ralph's World - Welcome To Ralph's World Oct. 8: The Sippy Cups - Electric Storyland Oct. 10: Gothic Archies (Stephin Merritt) - The Tragic Treasury: Songs from a Series of Unfortunate Events Oct. 16: V/A - Colours Are Brighter Oct. 17: V/A - New Orleans Playground (Putumayo) Oct. 24: Wee Hairy Beasties (Jon Langford, Sally Timms, Kelly Hogan, Devil in a Woodpile) - Animal Crackers Oct. 24: V/A - Old Town School of Folk Music Songbook Vol. 1