Sad Man Happy Man
According to a recent interview Mike Doughty’s favorite word is “inscrutable.” I tried to decipher the reasons why this might be so as I listened to his new album Sad Man Happy Man, but I found the answer to be, well, inscrutable. I thought at first I might find his lyrics to be cryptic, but Mr. Doughty makes his feelings absolutely clear, sometimes profoundly, sometimes profanely. His erudite, poetically inspired lyrics are interspersed with clever turns of phrase and he turns clichés on their heads, but his point of view is never in question. Perhaps I’ll discover mystery in his production. No, Sad Man Happy Man is mostly stripped down to its acoustic skivvies. I had to leave the mystery behind but in the process I discovered another fine effort from the former Soul Coughing frontman.
Doughty’s subjects for examination flit from personal relationships - with an emphasis on break-ups - to politics and economics. This isn’t new ground for Doughty but he’s never at a loss for new insights on the matters. As Doughty recorded this album he suffered a romantic split and the ensuing emotions loom over songs about women. Doughty referred to his song “(I Keep On) Rising Up” as his “Gloria Gaynor moment” as he victoriously survives the slings and arrows of an ugly breakup email. “Diane” and “Lorna Zauberberg” represent the “shadow woman” that Doughty has struggled with throughout his life.
Switching over to economics and politics, if you’ve recently found yourself taking scissors to credit cards you’ll appreciate “Pleasure On Credit.” And, if you’ve found yourself attracted to someone who is not of the same political persuasions as you, you’ll probably get a giggle out of “How to F**k a Republican.” Those last two songs remind me to tell you that Mr. Doughty isn’t shy about using strong language. You won’t be hearing either of those on radio without an edit. Same goes for “(He’s Got The) Whole World (In His Hands). That title is an example of how to turn a familiar phrase on it’s head. “Lord Lord Help Me Just To Rock Rock On” cleverly manages to use just about every drug reference known to humankind, and it’s got a good beat – I give it an 8 on the dance chart.
Doughty is a man who pays attention to his fan base. After his last big-production pop album, Doughty’s fans were split on their reaction. Doughty honored the requests of many of those folks and reverted to acoustic production for this album. Most of the songs feature Doughty on guitar and cellist Andrew “Scrappy” Livingston. One of the exceptions on the disc is the single, “(You Should Be) Doubly (Satisfied.)” (Doughty’s big into parenthesis these days). That song is produced by David Kahne who also produced Soul Coughings 1996 release, Irresistible Bliss. The song stands out from the rest of the record with it’s drums and electronics.