There is just barely enough kids' music in the United Kingdom that reaches North America for me to note how little kids' music there is in the United Kingdom whenever I review an album from across the pond. But the genre there is maturing a little bit, as evidenced by the number of albums released by artists best known for playing for adults. Two of the most recent come from Mick Cooke -- best known as a member of the band Belle and Sebastian, but a composer and arranger for film and TV as well -- and Nick Cope of the now-dormant band the Britpop band Candyskins.
Cooke's album Down at the Zoo sounds very much like a soundtrack to an animated children's TV special about, well, a zoo with anthropomorphically familar residents. It's an extension of "The Monkeys Are Breaking Out the Zoo," Belle and Sebastian's contribution to Colours Are Brighter, the kids-comp Cooke put together a few years back. On that song (also here), the monkeys scamper ouf of the zoo, while the peacock sings "Pay attention to me / pay attention to me" ("The Peacock Strut") and the penguins goof off playing Dixieland jazz ("Playtime for the Penguins"). They're character sketches primarily, with a mix of simply-arranged pop styles that don't step much into rock territory, though the tracks that do -- "We Are the Tigers" and the especially awesome "The Crocodile Synchronised Swimming Team" -- are among the best. But the 32-minute album (listen to a couple tracks and hear more about the recording here) probably won't satisfy fans of Colours Are Brighter hoping for yet another, more muscular collection of rockers recorded for adults as much as kids.
As gentle as Cooke's album is, Cope's is even more delicate. My Socks is his second album for families, following up last year's What Colour Is Your T Shirt?, and it features hummable acoustic chamber-pop tunes about very preschool-ish issues. The title track is an unambiguous and unironic celebration of, well, socks. Other songs deal with going to the grocery store ("The Very Long Shopping List", which could be a long-lost Burt Bacharach track), bubble baths ("Pour in the Bubbles"), and manners ("Thankyou"). It's mostly mellow mid-tempo stuff about familiar concerns, which makes a song like the peppy "There's a Bear" (most preschoolers having not seen "a bear / over there") stand out even more. It's a good album for a rainy day.
Despite their UK origins, both albums are available Stateside (via iTunes and other outlets). Parents who pick up Down at the Zoo or My Socks in hopes of finding a string of pop gems that they will listen to without reserve when their kids are out of the room or the car will be disappointed -- these albums' target audience is unambiguously the preschoolers. But just as it's important sometimes to listen to your own stuff and not have kids music totally take over your stereo or iPod, it's important that preschoolers occasionally get music recorded without hesitation for them. And I'd recommend crafted-with-care-and-purpose albums like these two above most mass-produced TV tie-in stuff for this age. Here's hoping they encourage more folks to join 'em.
Disclosure: I received copies of the albums for possible review.