Throughout December we are revisiting some of 2005's best albums which were previously featured as a CD of the Week, and we continue with the latest from former Soul Coughing frontman Mike Doughty.
Doughty has emerged with his first full-fledged studio album since the dissolution of his erstwhile New York band. That the album is clever, witty, and a tad off-center is not surprising. That it easily and almost casually rivals anything he did with Soul Coughing is.
His lyrics are consistently witty and inventive. In his song "Busting Up a Starbucks," he uses rhythmic language and visual devices, like the similarity of "own" and "now" even more than actual rhyming, which he forces for humorous intent like rhyming "tiny fist there" with "Sister, Sister."
In "American Car," Doughty turns romantic mythology on its head, beginning with a description of a circus performer who wants to "Run away and join the office." His lyrics twist and turn down unexpected paths. While "Unsingable Name" and "Madeline and Nine" are about literal romance, "Grey Ghost" is about the death of Jeff Buckley which also manages to namecheck character actor Bob Balaban.
Some of the praise due Haughty Melodic is owed to producer Dan Wilson, formerly the frontman of Semisonic. Wilson adds some nifty arrangements to songs that Doughty had previously recorded completely solo, like "Busting Up a Starbucks," "Grey Ghost," and "Madeline and Nine." Wilson's production keeps Doughty firmly front and center, but each song sounds different from the rest and it's never an uninteresting listen.
Doughty wrote about his music in 2001, "I like it to have big fat superlow frequencies that cause a palpable physical tingle." While the solo work dials back the superlow tones that characterized Soul Coughing, the palpable physical tingle is still present in the thrill of listening to a clever songwriter.
Haughty Melodic is not simply a terrific album, it's one of the best of 2005.