Bein’ Green Album

Published: August 24, 2011
Categories: Feature, Reviews

The following was written by ToughPigs’ own Matt Wilkie, who has a love of both popular music and green things.  Muppets, not as much.  Thanks for your hard work, Matt!

Also note that you can currently listen to the entire album right here on NPR.  But we encourage you to buy the CD or download on iTunes.  Muppets are (almost) always worth spending money!

Muppets: The Green Album follows a long tradition of album names coming from a color. Sometimes this is on purpose, like Jay-Z’s The Black Album, whose title is literally The Black Album. But sometimes the color is a nickname given to the album due to the color of the album’s artwork. The White Album, for example, is actually The Beatles, but since the album’s cover is just their name across the front of an all-white plane, it’s more commonly known as The White Album. So when Weezer released their first album, even though it’s technically self-titled, it’s almost always referred to as The Blue Album. Adding to that is the fact that Weezer’s third album was also self-titled, but this time they chose a green backdrop, so people took to calling that album The Green Album.

Whether the producers of the new all-Muppet-covers album decided to call their release Muppets: The Green Album as a nod to Weezer or the tradition itself is unknown to me. But since Weezer is included on the wide array of artists contributing to this compilation of covers, I’m leaning towards the former. And that being said, I think choosing their cover of “The Rainbow Connection,” a duet they perform with Hayley Williams, the lead singer of Paramore, is a perfect way to lead off this album. Its nature-oriented background noises add a tranquil quality to a beautiful vocal performance on both Williams’ and Rivers Cuomo’s part. Though I do feel they missed an opportunity with the third verse. Instead of a back-and-forth between them to echo Kermit singing to his reflection in the original recording, they instead harmonize with each other. I always liked that in the original, as well as when Kermit sang with Debbie Harry on The Muppet Show, but that’s my only real complaint.

And if that’s the only one, please note that it’s a small one. This is overall a beautiful rendition, as are the majority of the songs on this album. Close enough to the original, with a new feeling infused into it. The arrangement benefits from an update without taking away from the way I remember hearing it the first time.

However, Weezer’s is not the first track. Muppets: The Green Album begins with OK Go – or as I perceive them, the band with the great-looking videos and the average-at-best-sounding songs – performing “The Muppet Show Theme Song.” I understand why: they’re currently filming a music video with the Muppets to promote their song and this album in general, which I’m sure will be posted onto my Facebook wall multiple times within seconds of its release. It’s a viral goldmine guarantee. But the version of the song that they recorded is miles away from the original.

Now, I have a love/hate relationship with cover songs to begin with. I think if a band is trying to duplicate the original exactly, they’re missing out on an opportunity to put their own spin on a song they love. And it’s no secret how much OK Go loves the Muppets. Their cover sounds like it was recorded for a video game, with plenty of electronic cues and riffs. The backing sounds reminds me of a level of “Sonic the Hedgehog.” I think they went in the opposite direction for a reason, most likely to distinguish themselves. And the reason they chose to include the introduction lyrics without introducing anyone, as well as two endings to the track, is one that I’d also question. But is it too far the other way? That’s really up to the individual to decide.

The same things can be said about almost every song on this album. There are tracks that are very close to the original versions, like “Night Life” by Brandon Saller & Billy Martin, or “Bein’ Green” by Andrew Bird. And then there are versions that differ greatly from the original recordings, like Amy Lee’s version of “Halfway Down the Stairs,” or The Airborne Toxic Event’s “Wishing Song.” But whoever’s singing, you can feel the love and appreciation they have for the song, whatever they decided to do with it.

Whatever my opinion, you’ve probably decided whether or not you’re going to buy this album already. And with NPR offering a full preview, you can hear it before you decide for sure. So the only thing I can do now is offer my opinion on these songs. So here they are, track by track.

OK Go – “The Muppet Show Theme Song” / Weezer & Hayley Williams – “The Rainbow Connection”: See above

The Fray – “Mahna Mahna”: A fun, modern take on a song that has seen quite a few versions already. Whether you’re more familiar with Mahna Mahna himself, Bip Bippadotta, or the adult film version, The Fray’s funk-infused take on this classic will sound instantly familiar, while giving it their own scatting interludes.

Alkaline Trio – “Movin’ Right Along”: This is a duet done right, incorporating Kermit and Fozzie’s original dialogue to give it an extra boost of fun. Every “doog-a-doon, doog-a-doon” brings a smile to my face. Faster-paced and a little harder than the original, it’s a great addition.

My Morning Jacket – “Our World”: Technically, this song is mistitled, since they’re singing the lyrics to “Brothers” as well as “Our World,” just like The Frogtown Jubilee Jug Band and Alice Otter did at the end of Emmet Otter’s Jug-Band Christmas. But the marriage of those two songs makes for one beautiful tune, as do the folky vocals of the members of My Morning Jacket.

Sondre Lerche – “Mr. Bassman”: Lerche channels both Scooter and Floyd Pepper, singing their parts phenomenally. My favorite part of this is how the bass itself is unsteady and unsure of itself throughout, and then gets its act together by the end to illustrate musically the theme of the song. A one-man duet that I’ll bet Henson would’ve appreciated.

Amy Lee – “Halfway Down the Stairs”: Lee takes this song and makes it her own, and whether or not that’s a good thing is up to you and you alone to decide. Either you’re a fan of Evanescence, or you’re not, and that greatly impacts whether or not you’ll hit the “Next” button every time this trippy, bass-heavy, electonica version of Robin’s forlorn tune comes on your playlist.

The Airborne Toxic Event – “Wishing Song”: If I had one wish about this song, it’d be to figure out the lyrics they use during what was originally Gonzo’s instrumental solos. Other than that, I’d just wish to hear this track a few more times. It’s sad enough to be true to the original, with a sort of hopefulness that I wasn’t expecting from this band, but definitely appreciated.

Brandon Saller & Billy Martin – “Night Life”: Saller (formerly of Atreyu, and currently of Hell or Highwater) and Martin (Good Charlotte) take a spin on the Electric Mayhem’s bus, playing what Janice called “a love song” in The Great Muppet Caper. That depends on how you define “love,” I suppose, but it’s pretty clear from the way they play it that these two love this song. The dialogue riffs don’t work quite as well as Alkaline Trio’s, but it’s still commendable that they went for that added touch. As did their creepy versions of the Muppets’ laughs.

Andrew Bird – “Bein’ Green”: It’s a slightly awkward transition between the last song and this one, but it works somehow. This is definitely the point where I really took notice of the eclecticism in this album. Bird has a song, “Fake Palindromes,” which I both love and hate. It builds up at the end, and then just stops abruptly. Fortunately, that is not the case here. It builds itself up, then brings it all back down. It has a perfect arc. It even has a banjo! That’s a nice touch.

Matt Nathanson – “I Hope That Something Better Comes Along”: The almost-dreamy organ intro for the first verse, joined by piano later, creates a great atmosphere for Nathanson’s almost-loungey, never-cheesey version of the Henson/Henson duet classic. Even singing about being a frog and a dog in alternating lines works here. Maybe if Nathanson had heard Lerche’s cover first he would’ve opted to duet with himself as well, but it’s still just as lovely with one voice throughout.

Rachael Yamagata – “I’m Going to Go Back There Someday”: Essentially the third version of Gonzo’s signature tune released since it was written in 1979, this is leaps and bounds better than the version that snuck its way onto the Muppets from Space soundtrack. And arguably, it’s my favorite song on the album; it’s definitely the one I’ve listened to the most number of times so far. From the a cappella introduction, to the beautiful musical arrangement, to Yamagata’s stunning voice, it’s a terrific way to end the album.

There you have it, a tour-de-felt of music! Overall, the album flows very well from one song to the next, and it’s abundantly clear that every artist was chosen because they had something personal to say about the song they covered. Like any compilation or soundtrack, there’ll probably be bands that you love more than others and styles that you lean towards. But as a tribute to some of the Muppets’ most memorable and lovable songs, this is a great sampling of what different artists in various genres can do with some great source material. As an audiophile – and a Muppophile – I’ll be picking up my own copy on August 23rd.

Click here to sing a cover of a cover on the ToughPigs forum!

by Matt Wilkie

Tagged:music | OK Go | review

You May Also Like…

Written by Matt Wilkie

Read More by Matt Wilkie

Pin It on Pinterest

Share This