If you’re like me and spent a lot of time with music in the 90s, then Soul Coughing’s three albums may be near and dear to you. When they broke up, I had a lot of hope for lead singer Mike Doughty’s solo albums, but I have to admit I’ve lost track of where he’s drifted after the first couple of albums failed to hold my interest for long. Sure, the snappy wordplay was there, but missing was the playful punctuation of the band that we now know he has so much contempt for. Apparently merely mentioning your love of Soul Coughing to Doughty is enough to set him off, which is a shame.
He may think they were a band of “assholes” but the music meant a lot to some of us. He’s ashamed of how the songs turned out, not the songs themselves, from what I take.
To that end, Doughty has undertaken a PledgeMusic campaign to right the perceived wrongs. Soul Coughing Songs: Reimagined promised to do exactly that, setting 13 of the songs free of the somewhat jazzy, sound-effects laden, spoken-word styled alt-rock, though he proposes the new versions will employ “large, booming beats, deep upright bass,” which doesn’t really sound all that different from Soul Coughing.
As for the material he’ll be covering, he only specifically mentions “Super Bon Bon,” “Circles,” “How Many Cans?,” “True Dreams of Wichita,” and “St. Louise Is Listening.” Aside from the always cringe-worthy “How Many Cans?”, a song I have never once liked, the thought of altering any of these titles puts me on the defensive.
Each of them is perfect as-is, poetry set to artful music, the music the band was playing, especially the effects triggered by Mark Degli Antoni’s sampler, being so sympathetic and perfectly timed to Doughty’s delivery. Changing the backing music seems like it could be detrimental to the overall effect. I fear the outcome of this and yet I’m helplessly curious.
To that end, I’ve given in and signed on for the campaign. As with most of these PledgeMusic campaigns, there are an almost overwhelming number of choices, from the bare minimum songs of the album for $10 all the way up to buying the very laptop Doughty has written some of his own songs on for $2500.
The most obvious choice for most would be the second option, at $12, to purchase the download of the album as well as “stripped down versions of songs with just drum machine, guitar, and vocal.” Along the way, Doughty promises all kinds of updates for anyone who pledges with videos, photos and “oddness,” whatever that might be.
The music could turn out to be a complete disaster, and it’s unlikely that the new versions will replace the originals as favorites, but I’m not alone in being possibly-dangerously curious. In less than one day, enough fans ponied up the cash to completely fund the project, even though it won’t be available almost four months.
In some circles, the music of Soul Coughing probably elicits groans — they elicited groans back then, too — but success like this proves that while a record label probably wouldn’t touch a project like this, at least established artists, even if they’re not huge names, can make this model work because the fans care enough to take the risk up front.
The payoff is as much about the music they get as supporting musicians they care about.