Caring whether your kids have "good" (read: "your") taste in music, books, and movies is a foolish thing to do, so it means something that the day that my daughter said she really didn't like The Muppet Movie was one of the very few times when I actually, well, cared. It's a great movie, a little cheesy at points maybe, but funny and tender, one of the great movie musicals of the past half-century. (Seriously -- there are very few post-1960s musical on the AFI list of the Greatest Movie Musicals, and even fewer created specifically for the screen.)
Why do I relate the story? Well, more so than most albums reviewed here, it's my opinion, not that of kids, which matters here, because Muppets: The Green Album isn't really a kids music album. The album is a collection of 12 Muppet-related songs, drawn mostly heavily from The Muppet Movie or from songs heard on The Muppet Show. Much like Disney's collections of covers from their own stable of American tunes, Disneymania, Disney's approach here is to get popular (critically or otherwise) artists to tackle the Jim Henson-related songs. The fact that some of these artists weren't yet born when The Muppet Show went off network television doesn't seem to have hurt their recruiting efforts. (The fact that the rest of 'em were kids when the show was still on probably helped tremendously.)
And as is the case with any such collection, Disney or otherwise, this album succeeds or fails based on how good the songs are and whether the artists bring anything new to them (or, if they ruin their charm). As to the former issue, I think I've made clear my admiration for the Paul Williams-Kenny Ascher-penned songs for The Muppet Movie, but in addition to those classics, you also have songs like the Joe Raposo-penned Sesame Street song "Bein' Green."
What do the artists do with them? Well, some combinations work really, really well -- punk group the Alkaline Trio give "Movin' Right Along" a fun kick in the pants it didn't know it needed, and Sondre Lerche resurrect "Mr. Bassman," a song from a Muppet Show episode. I liked The Fray's take on "Mahna Mahna" more than I expected to, though it's probably the most faithful cover here. OK Go put their own spin on the theme song, and even though I could do without the tacked-on guitar solo, they do manage to keep the listeners' attention during what is, well, a theme song. And Andrew Bird's take on "Bein' Green" nails Kermit's wistfulness without making his cover a carbon copy.
But following Kermit is a tough act, and while many attempt to cover "Rainbow Connection," very few succeed, and I can't say that Weezer and Hayley Williams from Paramore do, either. As for "Night Life" from The Great Muppet Caper, covered here by Brandon Saller of Atreyu and Billy Martin, I'll just quote my wife after hearing it for the first time: "I never need to hear that ever again."
So, is this a kids' album? Not really. I'll put the age range for the album at ages 8 and up, not because any of it is inappropriate for younger kids, but because unless they've seen lots of Muppets on TV/DVD, they won't have the context for the music. (Older kids can enjoy the music on their own terms, or perhaps even recognize a few of the bands.) For a little while longer, you can stream the album here.
In the end, Muppets: The Green Album has a number of very good recordings from an underrated American songbook. Is it a great kids' album? No. Is it a lot of fun for those of us of a certain age who are still able to tap the kid inside? For the most part, yeah. For those Muppet fans, it's recommended.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this album for possible review.