I can't say that my initial expectations for Colours Are Brighter, the kids' music compilation put together by Belle & Sebastian trumpeter/bassist Mick Cooke, were very high. Franz Ferdinand doing kids' music, along with a whole bunch of other bands, only a few of which were familiar to these American ears? The whole thing sounded nothing more than a quickie album thrown together to cash in on the sudden popularity of music for kids. (OK, a quickie album designed to raise money for Save The Children's "Rewrite the Future" campaign, but still.)
Fear and misinformation are poor bases for making decisions on many things, and kids and family music albums are no different, my friends.
To begin with, Cooke has been putting together the compilation for a couple years, so it's not like Cooke read the Billboard charts in March and thought, hey, I can do that. More importantly, the music's pretty good.
Franz Ferdinand might just do the best job on the entire disk of putting together a kids' song that's in the spirit of the adult band. With its tinkling piano and scuffling drums, "Jackie Jackson" has enough of the more muscular sound of their music for adults, but the song's chief attribute is singer Alex Kapranos' spirited vocal turn on the story of greedy boy who likes to eat too many cakes. (The boy meets an unsavory, Roald Dahl-like ending.) Another band familiar to some are Snow Patrol, who resurrect an old song, "I Am An Astronaut," which seems like a picture book come to life (or sound), using swirly Snow Patrol sounds. (And, yes, "The Monkeys Are Breaking Out the Zoo" returns Belle and Sebastian to their more twee-pop sounds.)
The less-familiar artists sound good here, too -- Rasputina sounds a bit like Bjork on the funky, angular "A Skeleton Bang" while The Barcelona Pavilion (who hail from Canada, I believe) turn in a post-punk "Tidy Up Tidy Up" that sounds They Might Be Giants-ian echoes. My favorite tracks? Four Tet (featuring Princess Watermelon) doing the dance-track "Go Go Ninja Dinosaur" and the Ivor Cutler Trio singing "Mud," a track that sounds like it was recorded 80 years ago, but was in fact recorded only 40 years ago.
Not everything works great -- The Kooks' "The King and I" would sound good on their recent debut album, but if there was something that distinguished the song here from the rest of their work, I couldn't hear it. And the Flaming Lips' track, "The Big Ol' Bug Is The New Baby Now" is a half-sung, half-spoken word track on which, unfortunately the spoken words are too difficult to understand.
There's nothing age-inappropriate here, but I'm guessing kids ages 3 through 9 are more likely to appreciate the music. If you want to hear the tracks, visit either the album's website or its Myspace page. The album is available as an import here Stateside, or you may want to go directly to Amazon.co.uk or CD-Wow.
Colours Are Brighter is subtitled "Songs for children and grown ups too," which isn't a bad description. The songs stretch across the spectrum from being targeted right at the younguns to being pretty much "starter songs" for the bands' adult work. It's not a perfect compilation and there's not much of a unifying theme, but there are enough decent songs that it's worth exploring, particularly if you're interested in hearing a cross-section of mostly British, mostly current, pop-rockers. Recommended.