Review: Chocolate Milk - ScribbleMonster and His Pals

In college, I had a friend who occasionally entertained crowds by doing rock classics in the one-and-only voice of Ethel Merman. You've not lived 'til you've heard an Ethel Merman impersonator doing performing "Black Dog" by Led Zeppelin. ("Hey hey mama, said the way you move...") The incongruity of rock lyric and near-cartoonish voice rarely failed to bring down the house. Nobody could take that voice seriously.

I think most people would agree that "Black Dog" isn't a kids' song, but the question remains: why is it that some children's music feels the need to use cartoon voices? Cartoonish voices are good... in cartoons. Stripped of the visuals, cartoonish voices can become very tiresome very quickly. Do you want to hear an entire album of alternative pop recorded by, say, Bugs Bunny?

ScribbleMonster and His Pals attempts to bridge that gap on their 2004 album, their second, Chocolate Milk. ScribbleMonster is joined by ScribbleKitty, ScribblePiggy, and ScribbleBunny in singing seriously catchy power-pop melodies. Can the combination work?

Not entirely. This is best demonstrated on the title track (which fills the "void of festive, drinking songs for kids"); it's actually found twice on the album. On the first version of the song, voiced by ScribbleMonster, the growly voice causes me some ScribblePain. The second version, voiced by ScribbleJim (James Dague, the Chicago-area group's songwriter and voice for ScribbleMonster) provides no small amount of ScribbleJoy and is a ridiculously catchy song. "Beautiful Day" borrows part of the chord progression from Weezer's "Island in the Sun," and has the same, mellow alterna-pop feel of Weezer's song. In a good way. Because it's sung by "ScribbleKitty," whose voice is, well, normal, it's pleasant to listen to. (And while we're on the subject of songs sounding a lot like other, older songs, "Don't Cry, Dance" makes me wonder if the ScribbleAnimals haven't been to more than a few showings of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.)

The power-pop melodies and instrumentation will be familiar to fans of alternative pop and rock over the past 20 years, with mid-tempo rockers and quite a bit of fuzzy electric guitar. The lyrics are written with good humor and have little pretension. "The World's Greatest," for example, a driving rocker about being whatever you want to be, a standard topic for kids songs, has a list of entirely reasonable careers, including lines about "I'm gonna be the world's greatest plumber / I'll clear a clog like nobody else can." Any song that sings about becoming a plumber without condescension is OK by me.

The album will probably appeal most to kids ages 3 through 8. You can hear a number of songs at the ScribbleBooks Music page, or watch some additional videos at their Video page. You can buy the 32-minute album through the ScribbleMonster website and the other usual online suspects (in physical or download format).

In the end, I can't recommend Chocolate Milk entirely because of the cartoonish voices, but other listeners may not have the same eye-twitching that the voices cause me on some of the tracks, so if you're interested check out the Music and Video links above. Behind those cartoon voices you'll find a nice batch of kids' alterna-pop. And if ScribbleJim ever releases an album, I am so there.