Over a decade after the collapse of the band Soul Coughing, frontman Mike Doughty decided to reclaim that old discography. The results? Mixed, to be nice.
A little preamble; Doughty was heavy into drugs during SC’s period in the 90s, but the breakup was due to many factors. As the millennium turned, Sebastian Steinberg, Mark Degli Antoni, Yuval Gabay, and Doughty all split ways and found their own corners in the musical industry. Doughty embarked on building his career as a singer/songwriter touring out of his car and selling burned cds of what would be his premier ep. Early concerts still featured SC songs, but were quicly replaced with other covers and new compositions. Soon, he would refuse to play any old material. He wrote several books but was very critical of the band’s era and did not even list his fellow musicians for posterity.
Years went by. Modest indie success eventually came again. A softening stance on Soul Coughing came to fruition, either cynically or nostalgically, I can’t say. The project came as Circles, an album of tracks selected from across Soul Coughing’s entire discography done in Doughty’s modern style. I admit, I was interested and looking forward to new takes on these great songs.
Generally, this is technically a good album. The song choices are admirable; hits, a few deep cuts, and rarities. The lyricism has aged well too, out of the context of alternative 90s. Dought’s voice hasn’t really changed either.
On the other hand, before the record is through, the sensation of unessentialness becomes evident. Almost all of the cuts play very close to the originals. Stripped down a bit, but essentially the same. Overall, the songs lack the edge of the originals and don’t even try to bring anything new to the table. You really are better off owning the original albums.
My conclusion is that this is a double edged sword, and neither side is pleasant. In order to overcome Doughty’s ego of having previously distanced himself from the past, he covers the songs as a justification to reincorporate them into his present recognized catalaogue. In doing so, he took the route of least resistance or creativity, which is a cash-grab.
Therefore, I can’t recommend Circles. Buy the original Soul Coughing discography instead. That is great music!