Guess who’s nominated for a Grammy? If you guessed “the Muppets,” you’re correct! (If you guessed “Amy Winehouse,” you’re also correct, but that’s not who I’m going to write about, at least not today.) Last year’s album A Green and Red Christmas was nominated for Best Musical Album for Children. Now, this CD came out way back in October of 2006… so what better time to review it than December 2007? So join me, won’t you, as I make some hot chocolate and listen to this year’s only Grammy nominee that features a song by a prawn.
First of all, I just want to say I like the album art. It’s simple — just a few photos of a few Muppets on plain white or green backgrounds — but they look to be new pictures, which is nice. Kermit doesn’t appear flat-faced, and Miss Piggy’s lookin’ pretty hot. So that tells you that somebody, somewhere at Muppet Studios cared about this project. According to the CD insert, the Muppet performers here are Bill Barretta, Dave Goelz, Louise Gold, Eric Jacobson, Jerry Nelson, Karen Prell, Mike Quinn, David Rudman, and Steve Whitmire. Can that possibly be true? I know Jerry still shows up when he can, but doesn’t Louise Gold live in England? So I’m just going to ignore that, and assume it’s an error on the part of Sid, the harried Disney intern.
But there’s no time to dwell on that, because here comes track one: “‘Zat You, Santa Claus?” They don’t waste any time here — there’s no introduction, no opening skit with Kermit and the gang… They jump right in with this song, which, to my surprise, has a lead vocal by Bobo!
Wait…no. It’s not Bobo. According to the track listing, it’s “Electric Mayhem Band” (I thought they were “Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem,” but whatever.) Well, this is a cool, jazzy little number. I like the fact that it features saxophone, which means Zoot is in there somewhere. I can just picture him playing… but I can’t picture Dr. Teeth singing this, because Bill Baretta’s Dr. Teeth voice really does sound just like a slightly hipper Bobo. I guess this is the most we’ve heard from Teeth in the post-Jim Henson era, and I just can’t get into it.
Maybe if this were a musical number on a TV special it would work; if we could see Teeth singing the song it would be more convincing. The song’s kinda weird too. Dr. Teeth is all freaked out because he hears noises and suspects that someone’s trying to get into his house. For your sake, Doc, I hope zat’s Santa Claus, ’cause if it’s not, I don’t think those long, saggy arms of yours are going to do much good for fighting off a prowler.
The next track is called “A Red and Green Christmas”. Now that’s just confusing, because the name of the album is A Green and Red Christmas. I mean, come on — when Prince released the song “Diamonds and Pearls,” did he call the album “Pearls and Diamonds?” No, sir, he did not, and nobody got confused, which just proves that the Muppets should always seek to emulate Prince in all matters.
Anyway, the song starts off with Piggy asserting that red is the color of Christmas. Eric Jacobson’s Piggy is fantastic, by the way. I don’t know if there are still any Muppet fans who haven’t accepted Eric as “the” Piggy performer, but his falsetto on this track is as beautiful as anything that ever emanated from Frank Oz’s bald head. So Kermit insists that green is the color of Christmas, because of trees and wreaths and candied pears… candied pears? I never got one of those in my stocking, but they sound kinda gross. Anyway, this is a pretty song. It isn’t particularly funny, but hey, that’s okay. Sometimes the Muppets can be sincere. Kermit and Piggy continue to debate which color is the color of Christmas, until it’s finally resolved when they — WAIT A MINUTE, WHAT AM I DOING? I CAN’T SPOIL THE ENDING!
What’s next? “I love to play those old-time Christmas songs at The Christmas Party Sing-Along!” It’s a song about hangin’ out singin’ Christmas songs, and if you’re a Christmas carol geek you’ll love the references. Is is just me, or have the Muppets, over the years, done a lot of songs about singing songs? It certainly seems to be one of their favorite subjects, kinda like how Mariah Carey’s favorite subject is the word “Baby.”
Remember how I said Bill Barretta’s Dr. Teeth sounded like Bobo? Bill Barretta’s Rowlf sounds even more like him. In fact, they could have almost given this song to the bear, except that the jokey nature of it is more befitting to Rowlf. (“We want our wassail and our figgy pudding/If we ever find out what they are”) This is a fun, swingy track, and so far it’s the second out of three that were composed especially for this CD. “You know,” says Rowlf, “I’ve heard of sing-alongs, but I’ve never sung with ding-a-lings!” Not bad.
The next track begins: “Here’s a Christmas song for Jew girls, okay?” Well, Pepe, it’s awfully nice of you to consider the Jewish Muppet fans when you’re doing a Christmas album, so as not to — oh. He said “you girls,” with the Spanish accent and everything. Nevermind. So yeah, “Merry Christmas Baby” is a Pepe spotlight. Man, Bill’s all over this CD like fuzz on a frog.
I can’t really understand all of Pepe’s lyrics, but the song is snazzy… He seems to be singing about how cool he is, and how he’s totally gonna score with a bunch of chicks. Oh, and it’s Christmas time. It’s credited to M. Love & B. Wilson… Does that mean this is a Beach Boys song? That’s weird. “Santa came down the chimney, half past three, with lots of little presents for my baaabies and me!” Dude, Pepe’s singing his little crustacean heart out here. This is full of energy, and it’s my favorite track so far. Incidentally, it’s also the first track sung by a character with his original performer. Whoa, check out that high note at the end!
“This goes out to Kris Kringle! He’s one jolly dude!” Next we have Floyd, Animal and Zoot doing “The Man with the Bag,” yet another song I’ve never heard before. This is the first song by Floyd since “Wild Thing” on Kermit Unpigged in 1993, and according to Muppet Wiki, he’s performed here by John Kennedy. It’s a decent Floyd — he gets the “hah-hah-hah” laugh just about right — but it’s still tough to get used to. Zoot, Floyd, and Dr. Teeth all get solos to play here, and when Animal goes nuts during his, Zoot says, “Animal, take your tablets.” Nice. (Zoot, by the way, is still Dave Goelz.)
Hey, you know what would be cool? If we could actually see them playing their instruments. I mean, you know, not actually playing their instruments, but playing them the way Muppets do. As fun as it is to hear Animal grunting and growling, it would be fun to see the flailing that goes along with it. But I should say: they chose some really catchy songs, and good on them for resisting the temptation to go with a bunch of Christmas standards everyone’s heard a million times before (and which the Muppets themselves have done thirty thousand times before).
“Okay, Miss Fatback’s on!” says Floyd, which is a very in-character introduction to Miss Piggy’s rendition of “Santa Baby.” Piggy’s done this song before, in It’s A Very Merry Muppet Christmas Movie, but Eric’s performance here tops his earlier attempt. It doesn’t change the fact that this is a pretty weird song, though. Also, Piggy asks Santa for a sable, by which I’m sure she means a sable-fur coat… but the way things go in the Muppet world, I have a feeling she’s more likely to receive a live Muppet sable who does card tricks and plays the accordian.
Ah, Christmas… “It’s the Most Wonderful Time of Year.” That’s Gonzo’s position, anyway… but Rizzo’s not convinced, so it’s up to Gonzo to persuade him in this free-wheeling track featuring the ol’ Dave Goelz/Steve Whitmire magic. This one zips by in no time, and rivals “Merry Christmas Baby” as my favorite. By the end, I’m utterly convinced that it is the most wonderful time of the year… way better than the vernal equinox. Vernal equinox sucks.
Hey, what’s up with that line about “scary ghost stories”? Does anyone tell scary ghost stories on Christmas? Is that maybe a reference to A Christmas Carol? I have no idea, but there’s no time to dwell on it because a wacky fanfare and a intro from Kermit signals that the time has come for…
“North Pole Comedy Club,” starring Fozzie Bear. He sings, he tells bad jokes, then he sings some more and tells worse jokes. This is another original composition (unsurprisingly), with some authentic Fozzie-style jokes (“Do you know where Santa stays when he’s on the road? At a ho-ho-hotel!”), and a cameo by Statler and Waldorf (played by Steve and Dave, naturally). We can hear the the audience reacting, which is fun… I’m wondering if they let some of the recording studio crew provide the groans of the crowd.
Whoever was the big cheese in charge of this album obviously cared quite a bit about letting the main characters just be themselves. Still, this is another track that would have fit nicely into some kind of continuity to make the album a cohesive whole instead of a collection of individual songs. Like maybe, this is the part where everyone gathers round to see Fozzie do the act he’s been working on since last Boxing Day.
“Run, Run Rudolph” begins with a funky synth organ riff played by Dr. Teeth (or is it Bobo again?) that makes me want to get up and dance, even though I never, ever, ever dance. The arrangements and backing tracks on this album are top-notch, which is a good sign. At least it indicates Disney was willing to spend enough money on this project so it wouldn’t just be twelve tracks of Kermit and Piggy singing “Christmas Is Coming, the Goose Is Getting Fat” to the accompaniment of kazoos and armpit noises.
This Rudolph song always makes me think of that frantic running-to-the-airport scene in Home Alone. Hey, I have a great idea! Let’s cast Home Alone with Muppets! Okay… Robin would be Macaulay Culkin, and of course Fozzie would have to be Daniel Stern…
Which classic Christmas song is next? Oh, of course, it’s that timeless favorite “Christmas Smorgasbord.” Who’s playing the Swedish Chef on this track? I was going to guess Steve Whitmire, but Muppet Wiki reports that it’s Bill Barretta, so I’m really not sure. Pretty much everyone has taken a turn with the Chef since 1990… he’s like the town bicycle! OHHH, SNAP!
Of course it would be insane* to give the Swedish Chef an entire song to sing, so here we have a chorus of square-sounding singers, playing it straight as they describe the Chef’s plans for Christmas dinner. It’s funny, and the Chef is in fine form with his “voonder shmirnees” and such but it goes on too long. As far as I can tell, they’re just repeating the same verses and choruses… a little Chef goes a long way, I suppose. A little Chef? Say, why didn’t Muppet Babies ever feature a Baby Chef?
Next, “The Christmas Queen.” More square singers, but now they’re backing up Miss Piggy. She’s the Christmas queen at the Christmas show, you see. “She may be off-key but she’s sturdily built!” they boast. This is a good concept. I like when Piggy is regarded as the star of the show… and yet, they keep pointing out her flaws, until she gets mad enough to threaten their lives. You know what would have been funnier? If the entire song had been about how graceful and beautiful she is, while she’s tripping over her dress, and her angel wings are catching fire and things like that. But to quote Kermit on the original Muppet Show album, “somehow that just doesn’t make it on a record.”
There’s only one more track left, and boy, I can’t say anything bad about a simple but sincere rendition of “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” sung by Kermit. A lot of singers cover this song, and I don’t always believe that they want me, personally, to have myself a merry little Christmas, but with Kermit I don’t doubt it for a second.
“Through the years we all will be together, if the fates allow,” he sings. We’ve been celebrating Christmas with the Muppets through a lot of years, haven’t we? He ends with a “Merry Christmas, everyone,” which is very nice of him, but what else would you expect from Kermit? And so the CD comes to a close. It would have been nice to end with a group song by all the Muppets together, but I’ll take what I can get.
Actually — and I hate to repeat myself, but I will anyway — this whole thing really would have been more fun if there had been something tying it all together… some of the tracks end with segues into the next tracks, but for the most part it’s just a bunch of songs, and I’m guessing they never had more than three Muppet performers in the studio at the same time.
They could have turned it into a “Christmas at the Muppet Theater,” with some kind of backstage banter and maybe even a simple storyline to make the whole thing more cohesive. Like maybe the Muppets are doing a special Christmas show, and their guest star hasn’t shown up yet, so they have to entertain the crowd until he shows up, and it turns out that the reason he hadn’t shown up yet is that he’s really Santa. That wouldn’t have been hard to do. I think it also would have increased this album’s appeal to children, whom the Grammys consider to be the target audience. Because I’m not sure children really know who all these Muppets are.
Even better than that? If this CD were actually a soundtrack to a brand-new Muppet TV special I just described. I think that would have helped with the fact that this is our first extended exposure to the new Dr. Teeth and the new Floyd… If we could hear the voices coming out of the puppets’ mouths, then we could say, “Oh, it’s Floyd!” instead of, “Oh, it’s a voice on a CD which they’re telling us is Floyd.” As it is, it feels very close to being the Muppets, but it’s not 100% the Muppets.
It’s a good effort. The music is good, the performers are great. They just need some good old-fashioned Muppet material to work with. But as stocking stuffers go, this CD is about 500 times better than a candy cane or an apple, and so much better than underwear that it’s off the charts. And you can get it for about 10 bucks, so there’s no reason not to buy it, really.
Enjoy your Christmas smorgasbord, everyone!